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May 28, 2009 11:27 AM

Monterey Market Changes

I was looking for something on SF Gate and saw a headline about Monterey Market in Berkeley. Since I shop there I was curious so I followed the link - it appears that Bill & Judy Fujimoto will leave Monterey Market over differences with other family members on how best to operate the Market. The article mentions the extensive following Monterey Market has developed among local chefs. Zuni chef, Judy Rogers, is particularly unhappy with the prospective changes. More details to follow soon according to the SF Chronicle.......

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    1. That's really a shame - Bill leaving the day the new BB opens??!!??

      1. I made a BIG mistake going there last Tuesday afternoon. I know they are closed Sundays and it seems they were closed the Monday holiday. It was BEDLAM in there -- worse than I've ever seen Berkeley Bowl. Usually, MM is bad later in summer when great stone fruits and great tomatoes are available. They really should have those narrow double decker carts like WF has. (Since I made a trip there from SF, I had to brave the mess/crowds.) Great mushrooms but they did not have my favorite little gem type lettuces.

        I wonder if he's thinking of opening up his own place.

        9 Replies
        1. re: walker

          If I had any special needs or questions I felt at ease going into the office talking to Bill Fujimoto. Several times over the years I found questions to ask just to say hello and get his smile. The enjoyment he took in watching the first of the season bing cherry trucks unload.

          1. re: wew

            Please view the dvd "Eat at Bill's - Life in the Monterey Market"

            - support Bill Fujimoto at the Monterey Market today - at 5 pm Wednesday, June 3rd

            Monterey Foods
            1550 Hopkins St, Berkeley, CA 94707

            1. re: Cynsa

              5 pm today was a Lovefest to say Farewell to Bill & Judy.

              1. re: Cynsa

                I wanted to be there, but had a carpooling problem. Can you say more?

                1. re: Glencora

                  more pics here:

                  Waves of applause greeted Bill and Judy as they walked through the Monterey Market parking lot to the welcoming crowds of community friends and supporters. We munched on organic Bent cherries from Oregon... hugs and smiles, a few tears, kind words from Bill, more hugs, more smiles. A tribute to friendships, hard work, family and creating community.

                  1. re: Cynsa

                    oops - ? organic cherries, yes. maybe from Eureka, CA? ...not Oregon? - was the cherry guy from Oregon? we traded quips about Benton strawberries... when I thought he said they were Bent cherries! who can verify this? google did not give me answers.

                    1. re: Cynsa

                      Certified organic Benton cherries, a new variety of large-sized "maybe better than bing" (even though Google apparently did not come through this time, either) cherries, grown and packed by Ferarri (sp?) Farms in Linden CA, selected as best-in-the-house and donated by Veritable Vegetable of San Francisco, and sampled out to the crowd, as the guy said, in the spirit of the founder of MM, Bill's father, Tom, because that is what the guy knew Tom would have done had he been there that day (except the guy, not being universally known to the crowd and with only 30 minutes within which to do the deed, made a spectacle of himself, whereas Tom would have been quiet and humble and let the giving proceed of its own pace). The guy heard many times "thank you", to which he replied: "Every part of the chain from the earth to the stomach is just as essential. For the earth to provide to the orchardist (farmer) to provide to the distributor to provide to the retailer to provide to the consumer requires the consumer to accept from the retailer who accepted from the distributor who accepted from the farmer who accepted from the earth. So (with a little bow), thank YOU for being here today to enact your vital role in this commemoration of just one of the themes in the legacy of the Monterey Market."

                        1. re: Cynsa

                          inappropriate to say "twas nothing", because it was really something

        2. Store was curiously empty on Friday afternoon at about 4. No more "Eat at Bill's" at the checkstand.

          2 Replies
          1. re: wally

            I was among the crowd of people who applauded Bill Fujimoto as he and his wife left the market for the last time. I have been shopping there for 25 years and can be seen in "Eat at Bill's," working my way down the mushroom aisle as Bill displays a huge mushroom to the camera. (I also went to the premiere and posted the first review of the film on Chowhound.)

            In the letter I wrote to the board of directors imploring them to make it possible for Bill to return, I couldn't bring myself to say I would never shop there again, but I did say that I would shop there much less frequently. Made my first post-Bill visit the other day, looking for evidence of changes.

            It's too soon to say, but I had the impression that there was a bit less variety. There were Bing cherries in the outdoors area, but they were small, not ripe enough, and cheap ($2 a pound, if I remember right). I don't go to MM for cheap fruits and produce; I go there for excellent fruits and produce. So I went inside to see what other choices there would be re Bings, but I found no other choices inside. And I got the impression, though it's too soon to say, that there were fewer items identified by the farm, more generic items. They did have some small strawberries identified by the farm that I've seen there before, but they were overripe.

            On the other hand, I've noticed that the early corn from the Coachella Valley was iced down and better than in previous years. (I usually wait until the Brentwood corn arrives, but this year both MM and Berkeley Bowl have had good early corn that's been kept chilled.)

            Anyway, I'm hoping that other Hounds will join me in keeping an eye out for changes in the quality of the fruits and produce at MM, because I can only assume that Bill left because he felt the changes being forced by the other family members were geared toward increasing profits at the expense of quality.

            1. re: TopoTail

              Sounds like there are too many owners trying to use this rather modest store to provide each of themselves with a livelihood.

          2. I have just returned from MM and I wanted to share my theory about "changes."

            I found all the produce exactly the same: tomatoes (in types and prices), potatoes, salad mix, corn, several types of cherries, berries, chard, onions, green garlic, etc. English peas were cheaper. ;)

            However, MM is now carrying the full line of Clover Organic dairy goods. And cheddar cheese.

            So my theory is this: MM is not going to change its produce -- after all, that's its biggest asset. Rather, MM is carrying more types of packaged goods. This change has been a long time coming -- those Turkish juices in the back, the Odwalla stand, those expensive little crackers, salsas, etc. etc. If -- and this is just a theory -- if carrying packaged goods wasn't in the original vision, such changes might have started the family rift that ended with Bill's departure. The family wants the store to be more profitable -- do they do that by messing with the produce, which is why everyone comes? No. Instead, they offer additional things that shoppers like me usually get at Trader Joes or Safeway, *in addition* to produce. Like cheddar cheese and hamburger buns.

            PS they now also have 00 Flour in the bins.

            5 Replies
            1. re: meels

              I received an email from Lisa Brenneis (Eat at Bills filmaker) where she said that they (Churchill Brenneis tangerines) and others were not selling to Monterey Market now.

              1. re: wally

                Point taken -- but then the quality of produce will go down, not because the family necessarily *wanted* lower quality, but because people are refusing to sell in order to protest Bill's departure.

                1. re: meels

                  And anyway, Bill is still a 20% owner and presumably still involved in various aspects of the business, so any boycott efforts will hurt him, too. (Not directed at you, Wally, just in general.)


                  1. re: meels

                    That was one of the links in the email I got.

              2. re: meels

                Do you remember what they charge for the 00? Right now, I have to make a special excursion to Rainbow to get it. (Those bins at MM are awkward to get to; I usually forget about them until I'm in the check out line and facing them.)

                Since I live in SF, I get over to Berkeley about once every 3-4 weeks. Last time I was there, did not see any of the special, small, tight little gem like lettuce heads. This was a big draw for me. Has anyone seen these there lately? The Latino stockers could not tell me anything; next time I'll have to look for a "boss" to ask.