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Jun 5, 2009 12:55 PM

Mandela Foods, W Oakland Opening June 6

Mandela Foods Cooperative opens its new store tomorrow, June 6, across from the West Oakland BART station. From what I'm reading, West Oakland has been without a general grocery store for ages. The grand opening is from 10am to 2pm.

Mandela Foods
1430 7th St, Oakland, CA

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  1. I have a friend who lives a couple of blocks away, who has been waiting with bated breath for this opening for the almost two years since the owners first acquired the space (they've had "coming soon" signs up the whole time). She told me this morning that she stopped in yesterday evening, as the doors were open and they were doing business though not everything was in place.

    She reports that it's very small, but packed with high-quality merchandise, including organic dairy and eggs, some canned goods - beans and other ingredients, but not, e.g., canned soups - staples like cereal, soy milk, etc., and a small bulk section, and beautiful produce. There will be a deli counter, but it wasn't stocked yet.

    The selection isn't large enough to replace full-blown grocery runs elsewhere, she says, but she's thrilled to be able to grab decent produce and dairy, dinner ingredients, and so on, in the neighborhood, for a change.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      Thanks for the info. Is she happy with the price levels for the convenience and quality?

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I asked her about this, and she's waiting to see what the full stock is like (the refrigerator and freezer cases weren't filled yet, there was no bread, etc.). She did say it was expensive for the neighborhood; the least expensive eggs (all cage-free or organic) are $3.50/dozen, some produce prices are high. She is happy to have a source of good organic goods nearby, but she thinks that plenty of people will be sticking to the cello-pack produce from the 99 cent store, and that they will need have some options like canned soup and quick frozen things to really serve busy folks in the neighborhood. She plans to go back today for the grand opening, of course.

        She bought eggplant, avocados, soy milk, and eggs, but I don't know what she paid for each.

    2. I hope it does well. Smart move to be across from West Oakland BART. Given how packed the BART lot is, I can see some cross-over commuter business that can help support the bottom line. I'm going to check it out.

      14 Replies
      1. re: ML8000

        They've got that market in mind. From the website:

        "Mandela Foods Cooperative is located across the street from the West Oakland Bart station. We are currently creating a system in which you will be able to order your foods via the internet, and then have them delivered directly to your car waiting in the Bart parking lot!"

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          Great idea. I always thought an order and deliver system would be a great business in any area, or neighborhood. The delivery to your car is one better.

          1. re: ML8000

            Like WebVan and Kosmo(sp?)? j/k

            1. re: kc72

              It is a good idea, those were just bad business models. Various supermarkets still have internet ordering (Raley's e-cart, where you order online and then park in a designated spot and they run it out to your car) and/or delivery(Safeway) -- just not as their core business.

              Offering delivery for small-ish neighborhood markets is really going back to the the pre-car/pre-suburb/pre-refrigerator days when lots of stores of all kinds delivered, especially grocery staples. When I first started visiting my family in England, they not only still had daily milk delivery, but also daily bread delivery, and there was a butcher van that came around two or three times a week selling meat.

              Anyway, having a couple of stockboys who can run groceries out to a car a couple of blocks away or around the neighborhood is not the same as having an expensive infrastructure of specialized vans, etc.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Home delivery can be much more green and time saving then individuals driving to a single store. Example: one truck drives a 3 mile route and delivers to 2 dozen homes vs. 24 cars driving to one place at an average of 1 mile...that's a savings factor of 8, not including time.

                There was some environmental think tank stuff on this don't recall specifics. It does show that how things were done in the past made lots and lots of sense.

                1. re: ML8000

                  Yes, the "old ways" were often more efficient by necessity, since transportation was relatively more expensive/less available. The current distribution model was developed during the '50s and '60s and was based on cheap fuel and cheap consumer time (i.e., stay at home suburban moms who drove everywhere). More, smaller markets are a better model for urban areas than "superstores" miles apart. It drives me crazy when people talk about how areas like West Oakland need "supermarkets." They don't need supermarkets -- a population like West Oakland where a lot of the people are of limited mobility (elderly, disabled, no car) need more neighborhood markets where they can shop easily and frequently like the ones that thrive in the immigrant neighborhoods in East Oakland. Mandela Grocery seems like a step in the right direction.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I have no more credibilty as to what that neighborhood needs or doesn't need since I don't live their either. However, living in a similari area in San Pablo, yes, the corner markets are used, but so are the supermarkets.

                    If people don't have cars, they take cabs short distances to supermarkets. Can you imagine what it might cost to take a cab from West Oakland to a supermarket.

                    I have a disabled friend who lives off International in Oakland and needs to spend big bucks to go to the nearest Lucky ... and that market charges more than other Luckys ... we have price compared.

                    Shopping the plentiful little Latino and Asian markets covers 75 percent of what he needs, but people need larger supermarkets despite all their corporate evils. There is only one substandard market to buy meat in West Oakland, Green Valley Produce.

                    I guess ask yourself how adequate it would be if you had no acess to a large market, even TJ's. Sure, living off ethnic markets is doable, but how much would it really meet all your needs. Why should that be different for the elderly, disabled or poor?

                    Driving around West Oakland on Friday there is lots of nice housng being developed in that area and every one of those apartments had spaces for cars. The Mandela Expressway, as an aside, was being beautifully landscaped, full of roses.

                    Part of Mandala Foods is going to be local food education and reaching out to the local community. I'm sure that people will continue to use the 99 cent store ... heck I used it yesterday for some great broccolini ... but if there has been enough of a community to support a farmers market a few blocks away, I would hope there is also a demographic group that will support Mandela Foods.

                    Yep, the lady with the two foot behive made out of patched together wigs and supported by cardboard and who bought 10 bags of oranges at the 99 cent store will probably continue to shop there.

                    However, this neighborhood is moving in businesses like an internet cafe serving organic coffee and vegan food ... a wonderful thin crust pizza place and bbq tthat, IMO, can match anyplace in the East Bay and probably exceed others.

                    Given the size of the market, I probably wouldn't make a special trip there, especially since they have a nearer street stand on San Pablo in Berkeley that provides most of what I want that is better than Berkeley Bowl ... like the organic red lentils at half the bowl price.

                    1. re: rworange

                      The Pak-n-Save (Safeway's downscale marque) on San Pablo and 40th, while technically just over the line in Emeryville, is the primary West Oakland supermarket. It's two miles away from the new Mandela Foods on the diametrically opposite side of town. So the new store means that about half the population of W Oakland is now closer to a grocery.

                      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                        Well, so to speak. We will see if anyone who actually shops there reports back. It is not going to replace the trip to Pak-n-Save anymore than Bi-Rite is most people's sole grocery source. It will be a closer source of daily access to good quality veggies from what I saw.

                        1. re: rworange

                          I went there this morning to check it out. I think it markets to a different crowd than the 99cent store, but I appreciate what it's trying to accomplish. I wish we had something like it in my neighborhood.

                          I thought the prices were very fair, particularly for the bulk items. Oatmeal was $.99/lb, quinoa was $3.09/lb, nuts were under $7/lb. That's less that what I normally pay at Farmer Joe's. I didn't buy any produce, but as I recall, organic tomatoes were $1.49/lb and organic avocados were $1.25. We got some Brown Cow cream top yogurt for $.99 each and Clover half and half for $1.09. They also had some meats such as Mary's chicken. I hope it does well. I plan to return next week to buy more bulk items, dairy, and maybe some meat and try some new cheeses.

                          1. re: hummy

                            I stopped by today and looking at those prices I changed my mind ... I probably WILL make this a special stop.

                            Many of the organic items are about at least 25% less expensive than anywhere else, including the Berkeley Bowl.

                            It would a great stop after the Oakland Friday Farmers Market or a stop on the way home if your destination is the West Oakland BART. Alameda people ... its not that far.

                            I would urge all East Bay Chowhounds to shop here and is the primary reason I'm posting anything about this market in this thread.

                            They had a small stand on San Pablo in Berkeley.

                            The first time I stopped by, I wasn't going to buy anything because the prices were so low and I didn't want to deprive good produce to people who might live on lower budgets.

                            However, I was told that if they were going to make it, they needed to sell to more people than a select. few.

                            So I'm asking ... please stop by and check this place out. In addition to a substantial discount on organic food, you probably help keep a much-needed business open.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Mandela is nonprofit operation staffed at least partly by volunteers and funded in part by private and public grants. That's the only reason they can charge less than the Bowl, which is a for-profit business staffed by unionized employees.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                The store is presenting itself as a worker-owned coop. The incubator, Mandela Marketplace, is nonprofit.

                                For Fine, the hours of operation are posted on the store website, see my original post for a link or click on the blue Places link.

                              2. re: rworange

                                Do you happen to know the hours?


        2. The original comment has been removed
            1. Apparently, they're trying to work something out with Arizmendi to stock Arizmendi breads, or so an employee told my friend when she asked if they will carry bread. Don't know if or when it'll come to fruition.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                At this point, Arizmendi would be fools to supply bread to this market.

                Sadly, I'd start a pool about how long this place will last. I went last Saturday and I base that on

                - The neighborhood has refused to support an excellent farmers market where produce is half the price of Mandela
                - A local shopper who wrote Mandela off after one visit
                - No one was there
                - Reduced stock since my first visit

                If you build it sometimes they will not come ... unless you make a lot of effort ... and that doesn't seem to be happening.

                I wanted to try the lamb chops from a farm that I don't think sells at other markets. The meat, for the most part, is gone.

                There were three Mary's chickens and a few packages of beef at $12.99 lb. There was some meat that had moved to the freezer, but no lamb chops.

                The prepared food seemed to be a lot of hummus wraps.

                The veggies are still fine. They have the best mushrooms. However they are no longer organic. Still those pristine white mushrooms for $1.99 lb were quite the deal. They also had some of the best ollieberries I have had in a long time for $1.49. I think they were from Rodriguez Farms.

                But then they have some out of wack prices such as organic blueberries for $3.50.

                I chatted with a customer at the Saturday farmers market across the street and after one visit she was very unhappy with Mandela Foods. The prices were too high for her and she bought some Santa Cruz beverages which were on sale for $1.50. She thought they were juice but as she said they were a little juice mixed with water and sugar. At the 99 cent store she could get real juice for less than that.

                Also, this neighborhood is letting a fine little farmers market die. From a dozen stands there is one produce stand left. Not only are the prices a lot less than Mandela, they are less than the 99 cent store. There were lines at the 99 cent store. There were two other customers at the farmers market.

                My report on the near death of that farmers market