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Jan 5, 2009 10:48 AM

Do you travel over 10 miles to shop at Berkeley Bowl?

I'm just curious as to what specifically draws people to the Berkeley Bowl from all over the Bay Area, so I'm throwing this out for discussion. It's a great store, but it's also not the easiest place to park, get in and out, etc. Is there a specific item (or even just a general reason) that draws you to the Bowl?

I used to live within a 10 minute walk of the Bowl. It's a great store, I don't dispute that for a minute. Yet I'm a little surprised its offerings haven't been duplicated elsewhere around the Bay.

Also, does anyone know the status of the new "West Berkeley Bowl"?

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  1. Yep. For decades ... since I first read about it in the Chronicle. At that time I made the treck from SF.

    >>> its offerings haven't been duplicated elsewhere around the Bay <<<

    Well, that's the point.

    I know Monterrey Market has its fans, but really ... not as good for me.

    Yep, the farmers markets have fresher and better produce, but they don't have the sheer variety and stuff that isn't local.

    For me, it is mainly the produce. Right now the citrus selection is fantastic. I've introduced myself to all sorts of exotic items there.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Monterey Market is the friendly, funky original and I love it!

      1. re: rworange

        Yeah, rw! Citrus right now is great at BB. I've been obsessed with using Seville oranges and have been buying them at BB.

        Re: MM...I do like MM, but the parking's even worse than at the BB and the place even more crowded. I've gotten some great produce there, but have also found wilted greens and mushy mushrooms. This has also happened at BB, but there's such a great selection that you can almost always find something great.

        In addition, I can do all my shopping (well, most - I do buy Plugra butter and Pavel's Yogurt at TJs cause it's cheaper) at one place which is impossible at MM.

        I don't seems that folks love it or hate it. My suggestion is to go between 4 and 5 p.m. or even 4:30 and 5. Usually lots of parking and not that crowded. Even if it is crowded, though, the clerks are so efficient (How in the world do they EVER know what each item is so fast?) that the wait's usually not that long.

        I've been going to BB since it was in the old bowling alley down the street and was little more than a glorified fruit stand. I'll put up with its drawbacks.

        PS: Dingy? I certainly have never heard that before...or noticed it.

        PPS: You can buy chicken feet, carcasses, etc. to make soup, which is rarely the case at most markets.

        1. re: oakjoan

          When you say "Even if it is crowded, though, the clerks are so efficient..." I feel like you're either shopping at different times than me or in a different store altogether. The main reason that I rarely go to Berkeley Bowl is because a shopping trip there always takes so long, and the slowness of the lines and the clerks is a big reason for that. I can run in and out of both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in about 15 minutes, including shopping and checkout time, and I've never spent less than 30 minutes at BB, and that's probably a record, it's more like 45 minutes to an hour each time, and that's just a long time to be in the grocery store.

          I would love it, though, if BB was open longer hours, I would probably go a lot more often if it was open later.

          1. re: JasmineG

            All the clerks at TJ's have to do is run the items through the scanner. Most shoppers at the Bowl are buying produce, which means the clerks have to identify each product (which mostly *don't* have the stickers with the product code on them) -- not only what it is, but which of several variations it is -- enter the code and weigh them, which takes more time per item. I think it's amazing that they are as efficient as they are -- half the time the clerks at my local market have to look up the produce in the computer, and they have about one-eighth the number of produce items the Bowl has.

      2. I'm not surprised the offerings haven't been duplicated -- very few markets have the personnel necessary to support a produce section like the Bowl's, which takes dedication, time and skill. And very few markets have a demographic that will make a produce section like the Bowl's worthwhile. One of the reasons that Bowl is successful is that people do come from a distance to shop there, which generates enough volume to support their offerings. Some people come from a relatively short distance, but still farther than, for example, their local Safeway or Whole Foods, and some people come from farther away. I used to travel over 10 miles semi-regularly to shop there until a market with great produce (if not the amazing selection) opened across the street from me. I still go there when I need enough things to make it worthwhile (or when I need at least one thing I can only get at the Bowl or something I *know* I can get at the Bowl and I'm not sure I can get closer, and so I make it a "one-stop" shop).

        The parking hassles are over-stated, IMHO. I never park in the lot -- I park on the street and always find a spot within a block. Since you can take the carts out of the lot, this isn't much of a hardship.

        1. I don't own a car so don't have to worry about the parking issue, which is probably the No. 1 deterrent, but I would say I still go to Berkeley Bowl maybe 3-4 times a year, mostly once a season to check out what's different and exotic, and that's mostly in the great produce section.

          In general, I find the people shopping at the bowl annoying (there's a real sense of entitlement for some reason) and the lines to check out a test in your comfort zone for personal space. I also don't think the workers are all that friendly. Like I said, the produce section is the star and the only reason to go and shop. Otherwise, I avoid it.

          6 Replies
          1. re: singleguychef

            Wow, what he said. Esp about the annoying customers with the sense of entitlement (you are in Berkeley after all) and the unfriendly workers.

            That said, when I was living in Berkeley the last five years, I traveled the three blocks to shop there. Great produce section, pretty nice bulk foods section too. Cheese section is okay in a pinch. Decent milk selection too. Nice selection of beers. Love the bulk spice selection and turnover.

            Except for the people, I like Berkeley Bowl a lot.

            1. re: choctastic

              I think it was Herb Caen who invented the term "Berkeley-er than Thou." That may be a persistent characteristic. I wouldn't know, since I've pretty much avoided Berkeley in the last 40 years since my UC days. We did go (slightly) out of our way to go to the Monterey Market and Westbrae Market in the 60s, though.

              1. re: Xiao Yang

                I think a lot of the "Berkeley" types are really transplants.

                I like Westbrae, though it's pricey. I didn't know it had been around that long.

                1. re: Glencora

                  Westbrae is much different than it was back then.

                  1. re: wally

                    It was basically a "natural foods" strore in the 60's. Closer to us and less weevily than The Food Mill. I have no idea what it is now, didn't know it was even still around.

                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      It is still a natural foods store, but it is much less "funky" than it was back then. It also is much more upscale than it was. It is now called Berkeley Natural Foods and there is another in El Cerrito.

          2. I use to live 3 blocks away and it was great. Now I live a 5-10 min drive in the East Bay and go every week to two, sometimes less. More then a 10 min drive is bit much unless you're doing other errants nearby.

            For me it's not the variety (which is staggering) but the overall quality and price. Of course choice is great but sometimes there's just too much to look at. I have to stay on a strict "don't buy too much" strategy. Besides that, great bread selection, very good meat counter and fish monger. There's better fish and butchers elsewhere but nowhere else will have the combo of produce and quality fish/meat.

            re: parking and busy hours...I try and go at 7:30 on a tues or weds, rarely crowded.

            1. Weren't there plans to open a second location? Is that still happening or did the economy postpone that venture?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Scott M

                Looks like they are building it next door to the Scharffen Berger factory. We were over there several weeks ago and the people are the chocolate store were telling us about it. Looks like a pretty massive building that will include parking. Not sure on the timing and there weren't any signs up when we were there. But the building looked about half completed.