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Do you still shop at the Oregon St. Berkeley Bowl? If yes ... why?

Unless ...

1. You live nearby
2. It is on your migration path from work/school
3. You are a masochist

I'm pretty sure last week was my last visit to the Oregon St. store.

I was surprised to see the parking lot still packed. It was like they never opened another store not too far away.

One reason I was there was to check out the produce sprinklers. Berkeley Bowl West drenches the produce. I couldn't remember if it was the same situation at the other store.

They do seem to have less sprinler action going on ... but the pain of shopping at that store ... I'm just going to take it up with BBW about the sprinklers.

When I got pinned in next to the tomatoes, I asked one shopper if she had been to the new store yet. She said no. I'm guessing the people still at the Oregon store just haven't test-driven the new place.

They DO have a less of a selection. Less butter, fewer beers ... and there just was lots of stuff I could pick up at the new store that I couldn't pick up here. After being exhausted from the fight to shop and waiting 20 minutes on line,I say farewell.

Just some notes from that trip

There is a new linguica in the meat section - Five cousins from Portugual

Despite all the hype on the website, I didn't like it as much as other linquica made locally. It is just too salty. Also, it reminded me more of chorizo, though it holds together better. I might give it another chance in a dish, but so far with eggs or cooked in a little red wine (as they suggested), all I could taste was salt. According to the site, it is served at 900 Grayson.

This is for both stores ... Berkeley Bowl is the only place that sells sponges at a reasonable price. Four nice sponges are 99 cents andI picked up a scrubber sponge for 35 cents. It just ticks me off that it costs about $3 for sponges in supermarkets. I worked at a place that included sponges in the product line. They were 7 cents each at the employee store and retailed for 70 cents each.

Black splendor plums at BBW were cut open for tasting. Also sold both places. I have never seen a more spectacular plum in my life. Looks 10. Taste 0.

Berkeley Bowl
2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

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  1. Needed citric acid to make mozzarella. Found rennet through Chowhound in aisle 4 at Mollie Stone, Tower. Tried BBW and Janet was kind enough to call BBE and locate it. Prepacked $1.58, 1/4 price natural food store. Today, noon several spaces in the lot.

    1. After trying out BBW, I've decided to go back to BBE at least for the meantime. The reasons are:

      I know where everything is at BBE.
      BBE has better bargain bags of produce.
      BBE is closer to my house (theoretically, it could be quicker to go to BBW via the freeway, but that means 24 to 580 to 80, which almost always crawls.)
      And the main reason is that the staff at BBW is not yet as knowledgeable and efficient as the staff at BBE. All of the service counters (meat, fish, deli, etc.) take longer at BBW and the staff just doesn't know what they're doing yet.
      When and if that changes, I'd probably go to BBW more.
      Also, it is now relatively (stress relatively) easy to get in and out of BBE. I even park in the parking lot rather than just parking on Oregon and walking.

      An unrelated BB question. Has anyone else noticed the flower section at BBE going downhill? Is it related to their supply being stretched between two stores? Is it the time of the year?

      1. BBW is more convenient to me route wise and the lines are very short. That said, I'd just as well go to BBE and actually like it more.

        I know where everything is by memory, like how the produce is laid out and I like the deli counter people at BBE better...familiar faces, not as snarky, jumpy. The short lines and easy parking at BBW however makes it very, very easy to get use to.

        My guess is most people that still go to BBE are within the heart of Berkeley or the surrounding areas of Oakland and Albany and that's still a very sizeable sample.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ML8000

          I was at BBW last Sunday and it was the first time I saw the garage full (or even with fewer than 30 spaces available per the digital "counter"). Amazingly, the store seemed to flow smoothly and the lines weren't too long.

          I drove past the other store on the way home and the parking lot looked like the usual Sunday madhouse. Can't imagine what it was like inside.

          Yes, I live closer to BBE than BBW, but I don't know if I'll ever go back to BBE.

        2. None of the above. I prefer The Old Bowl because I think the produce is better and easier to shop for (BBW: those low bins, the separate organic/conventional sections, the having to have your organic produce weighed: sheesh, what a hassle!). The tomatoes are over-chilled, the stone fruits are more likely to be overly ripe, I've yet to buy a decent pineapple at BBW.

          Also, I have yet to run into anyone I know at BBWest. It's...weird. I've lived 'round these parts for decades and I don't recognize anyone at the new store. Where is everyone coming from? And shoppers seem less friendly to me. Maybe they're just trying to find where everything is and falling into shopper-trances...I'm not sure. The checkers at BBW are much more fun to chat with than at the Old Bowl, though.

          I know where everything is at the Old Bowl. I only occasionally suffer parking frustration and they have a few things that the new store doesn't have.

          But, I live 3 blocks closer to the new store and have to cross over only one major street to get there so I stop in a lot to pick up a half gallon of milk or bread between shopping trips. I'm glad the new store exists.

          3 Replies
          1. re: MollyGee

            I'm glad people are faithful to the Oregon St store which means fewer people for me to deal with at BBW.

            I think the new store may be picking up people who wouldn't bother with the hassle of the Oregon store. I'm happy that BBW finally seems to be thriving enough to make it worthwhile for business.

            I'm going to marginally agree about the produce ... and BB is about the produce ... which is what drove me back to the Oregon store to see if it was better there.

            Some things no ... the odd produce ... I'm thinking the stuff around the area in BBW of the ginger and fresh tumeric ... are in better shape here.The other things are improving, I'm suspecting due to more shoppers. I do think the temp is too cold for the stone fruit and tomatoes, but those are things I'm more likely to buy from a farmers market anyway.

            They do need to ease up on the watering though. I don't usually buy letuce at any BB, but needed some. It was drenched in both sections. Fortunately living lettuce was on sale for 89 cents, so I went with that. Weird stuff, living lettuce. The texture is odd.

            1. re: rworange

              A lot of people visit BBE from around the Bay. Most of those people, who aren't from Berkeley and aren't bound to BBE because of the "Berkeley sentimentality" factor, will probably migrate to BBW because it's right off the freeway.

              1. re: Agent 510

                I live in Berkeley and have not been back to the Oregon store since BBW opened. I am so pleased to have a neighborhood grocery store within easy biking distance, I can finally feel free to drop in for a quick shopping trip even if all I need is milk and eggs. I never went to the Oregon store without my weekly grocery list so I could justify the time and annoyance factor. I also agree with one of the comments below that the cashiers are more fun to talk to at BBW--but just wait until it develops a more regular crowd and gets busier, I am sure they will develop the correct semi-surly/efficiently speedy attitude. Also, I have noticed that some of the people who are there in the middle of the day seem to be employees of nearby businesses buying lunch. Other than that, I would not assume that BBW is now getting the tourist-shopper business--I have seen plenty of the usual Berkeley freak-types at the new Bowl, they just seem less annoying to me because I now have more room to manuever around them. :)

          2. Ha. Just guessing but from the time and still-steaming tone of your note it would seem you were at BBE at about 5 on a Friday afternoon? Don't do that. That's when everyone's there except for everyone else who's there on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

            One of the secrets to a successful bowl visit has always been to go when it is maximally inconvenient for you. Since that's likely to be an inconvenient time for everyone else too and they won't be there. Lately, weekday mornings and early afternoons have been a ghost town in there. No lines, sometimes five or six registers closed, plenty of free parking.

            BBE is a bit closer but the main reason is better bike access.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              Nope, Actually went a few days ago about 2pm. Thought I'd give the linguica a try a few different ways before giving it a thumbs down. Other than the day before a major holiday where you have to shop in zen mode because fo the masses, there is no rhyme and reason to BBE (BBO?). I've been at times that are usually less full and they are slammed and visa versa. It is part of its 'charm'.

              1. re: rworange

                I agree with Chuckles, there are times that aren't busy on a consistent basis. A long time ago a cashier told the best time/day to go besides the afternoon was either Tues or Weds evening. Sure enough they were right and I've been doing that ever since. I've also found Friday and Sat evening (around 7 p.m.) not to be busy.

                Once in a while you will go during an afternoon and it's nuts...and it's usually a minor/state/local work holiday. But it's rare in my view. Also, when I lived 2 blocks away I also found out a minor trick if you just need 1 or 2 items (that isn't produce), you can go to the cookie counter near the deli at BBE. The counter staff there (and the whole deli) is very cool.

                On a side note, I know a few people that live in Rockridge and Temiscal that didn't know there's a new BBW, and I imagine quite a few more don't. Any way, if BBW wasn't easier and on route I'd be just as happy at BBE, or more so.

            2. I stopped by yesterday (Friday) at 5. Out of habit I parked on the street, but the parking lot turned out to be only 50-75% full. Went in, grabbed what I needed, only one person ahead of me in line.

              That's pretty typical of my experiences since the West Bowl opened. It's my neighborhood grocery so I'd shop there regardless. Usually I walk. I get my produce at the farmers market and through a CSA so that's not a factor.

              Ironically, last time I went to the West Bowl it took me a couple of minutes to park because some moron was blocking the entrance waiting for a space in the surface lot. That's an amazingly badly designed layout, particularly the way they made the loading dock too small and put it right next to the garage entrance so that trucks end up blocking traffic. I also don't like how freezing cold so much of it is.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I will echo some of what Robert said. My reasons for shopping at BBE include your disqualifiers (I live within easy walking distance, it's the closest grocery store to my home). Since BBW opened, I have not waited in a single line with more than two or three people ahead of me, no matter what day or time of day, even when the store feels a bit crowded, so if that's the effect of BBW, hallelujah for BBW. I see open spots in the parking lot with some frequency, but not always.

                I sometimes buy produce there, but it's a supplement to the farmers' market. Produce kept soaking by sprayers is a huge turnoff to me, so that is a major negative about BBW.

              2. I still go to BBE weekly, but things have changed at that store in the last few weeks. We usually go on Saturday mornings and for many years were part of the 9 AM sharp crowd, wanting to get in and out before things got too crazy. We went a bit late last Saturday, and there was still ample parking in the lot, and on the street. We thought it was quite weird. We shopped, and there was little if any line at the checkout. Today we went again, this time at 9AM. The entire east side of the store was available for parking, there were lots of spots in the lot, and on the street. There was no line to speak of at the checkout. It was bliss. I am just a bit concerned that this will ultimately affect the freshness of their products and their selection.

                I have been to BBW. I am sure it will change, and it may very well already be much better than when I went (about two weeks after it opened). Based on that initial experience, I don't really care for it. As others wrote, I don't like to see tomatoes being chilled. I don't like the way some of their produce is displayed or distributed/placed. Some of the bulk items that I have always gotten at BBE were not there yet. I don't have time to waste going to both. I also like the staff at BBE, and tend to buy cases of produce from time to time. The clerks who stock the produce are always willing to suggest a particular peach or nectarine that is particularly good that week.

                If I were to go to BBW, it might be to visit their fish counter. I have no enthusiasm for the fish counter at BBE; the last two times I bought fish there it was most definitely not fresh, and I stopped buying my fish there several years ago.

                6 Replies
                1. re: tutti_a_tavola

                  I haven't been in the E since W opened, and I shop at W more than I did at E. Last Sunday was the first time that it almost felt crowded, and it really wasn't. I do not like the separated produce departments. I agree about the fish - it looks like something you might really want to eat at W. It is also closer to home, but both are a drive.

                  1. re: lmnopm

                    Can anyone speculate as to why BBW wasn't crowded with lines out the door the first day it was open? I was sure this would happen, maybe not quite on the scale of the CA Academy of Science opening last fall, but something like that. I figured the Bowl has so many loyal customers both from Berkeley and around the bay, and that everyone would jump at the opening of a bigger and shinier and newer version.

                    It still surprises me that it isn't even happening now, 2 months after the opening date.

                    1. re: Agent 510

                      Likely the fear of what never happened - like the 1984 Olympics, where LA was going to grind to a halt, but everyone was afraid of the crowds, so everyone stayed away, and the traffic was at historical lows.

                      Getting in/out of BBW is somewhat stupid, but isn't really inconvenient. Everyone feared that the entire neighborhood was going to grind to a traffic halt. Also, they had a soft opening, and I don't think, outside of the very local press and foodie sites, that there was much publicity.

                      1. re: lmnopm

                        >" I don't think, outside of the very local press ... that there was much publicity"

                        Local press? The Berkeley Daily Planet overtly -hates- the bowl and the week it opened, instead of publishing anything at all about it, instead they had a letter from some foil-hat local about how the Adeline crosswalk at Oregon had a walk light that was too short and this was the bowl's fault. A week or two later they had picture and a polite caption but that was it.

                      2. re: Agent 510

                        As far as opening day was concerned, I was surprised by the lack of crowds too. But my understanding was that it was a soft opening--they didn't advertise; the new store wasn't even mentioned on the website. The only reason I even knew about it was from this board.

                        I haven't been back to the old Bowl (where I was a regular) since the new Bowl opened, and I don't really plan to. What can I say? It was love at first sight.

                        1. re: Agent 510

                          Opening up 9th St to traffic onto Ashby helped and I don't there was any advertisement or press. Also, BBW is one huge store in comparison to the old one and even if suddenly you had 1.5 the number of customers, you have more then 2x the space then before. Okay I have no idea but it seems to be working fine.

                    2. I agree that the spraying of the produce is all wrong. At Monterey Market the guy was spraying with a garden hose and I asked him not to, told him BB does not. He said he used to work at BB and they spray there, too. I guess the BBE did not seem wet to me like Safeway and Lucky -- I just cannot shop at those stores. I think I prefer the original BB.

                      I work a night shifts and cannot get up very early on my days off to go to farmers markets ( I live in SF). Can you recommend a good farmers market on Mon/Tues or Wed that is avail late morning or afternoon?

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: walker

                        In the entire state of California, there is no Monday Farmers market. I guess farms take Sunday off. I'm not sure if farmers show up at the new Island Farmers market at Metreon on Monday

                        Here's the list for Farmers Markets. Enter San Francisco in the city for a list of markets each day. .

                        On Tuesday there is only the Ferry Plaza Market
                        10:00 AM - 2:00 PM

                        On Wednesday, the Civic Center market is a good one.
                        7:00 AM - 5:30 PM

                        There's a few more on Wednesday, but I'm not familiar with them. The one in the Castro is 4:00 PM - 8:00 PM.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Parking at Ferry is expensive or a long walk.
                          I've never really liked the CC market -- when I've been there, just saw mostly Asian veggies/greens.

                          I'm willing to go to Berkeley -- I thought I saw one there in the afternoon on a Tues or Wed.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Thanks for the link, the one I passed as Tues Afternoon on Derby. I'll try to go to that one.

                            1. re: walker

                              That's a nice market. I like it better than the Thursday Berkeley Market.

                              Also on Tuesday, Spiral Gardens sets up their stand on Sacramento St. Some of the produce is from their garden, some they buy from the farmers at the Tuesday market at a slightly reduced price. If they don't sell out on Tuesday, the stand also sells on Wednesday

                              1. re: walker

                                Tell us how the Derby FM goes, I'm curious and don't think I've ever read a review on CH. I've driven by it a million times but never stopped. I always figured it would have to be good since it's a CFM and in Berkeley yet it looked low-key and not fussy.

                              2. re: rworange

                                Pacific Grove, CA has a certified market on Mondays.
                                Info for farmers markets is so incomplete and often out of date, unfortunately.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  You are right. I haven't search that area for a while. The California Certified Farmers Market Site has been good about keeping up to date until this year ... maybe budget cuts. They unfortunately reorganized the site and broke it down into smaller chunks.. Instead of just searching the SF Bay Area they broke. it down to two areas which is a pain. If it isn't broke don't fix it. The money would be better spent keeping the market info up to date.

                              3. re: walker

                                The Tuesday Berkeley Derby St. market is great, almost as good as the Saturday one. Substantial overlap between the two but some differences, notably Full Belly yes, Fatted Calf no. 2pm to 7pm.

                                The Thursday market is much smaller (partly because it's all organic) though they have some first-rate produce.

                                Berkeley Tuesday Farmers' Market
                                Derby St, Berkeley, CA, USA

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  In addition to Full Belly, Tuesday also has the Hmong farmers, with their amazing and unique varieties of produce, some of which I can't find at even Berkeley Bowl or Ranch 99, at unbeatable prices. Lovely people, to boot.

                              4. I've thought about this, and decided that I distinctly prefer BBE, at least for now. It's much closer to me, and with the opened up parking spaces and fewer crowds, the major annoyance triggers have been alleviated somewhat.

                                I think for me it's also about the unique experience. BBE, like Monterey Market, have that "only in Berkeley unselfconscious abundance of riches" feeling. It looks and feels shabbier and crazier than BBW, but that's what I find charming. I've been going there for over a decade, and like the layout, the staff, and the characters. To me, BBW is like any other fancy grocery store experience (I work in the food industry, so spend time in Whole Foods, Wegman's and the like around the country). When I'm home, I like to be reminded about why I like this unique and quirky city I live in, that offers up such treasures for those willing to sweat a bit for it. Plus, I found BBW quite cold, temperature wise, the few times I went there.

                                That said, BBW is on my way home from the gym, so do expect to see me there once in a while too.

                                1. I still go to BBE. I tried BBW a couple weeks ago, and found that the bulk section wasn't as extensive as at BBE. This was confirmed by the person working at the cheese counter. That may have changed, or will change, but I still like the old Bowl. One reason may be that I go at odd times, plus park on the street, to spare myself the hassle of parking in the lot. I also like to get a bulochki or saffron bun at Crixa afterward.

                                  By the way, since the layout at BBW is different, I tried a few things I normally wouldn't notice, including the coconut chews on the bulk candy rack near the produce section. Highly recommended!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: TerriL

                                    I've been shopping at BBW because it's more convenient, but if they were equally convenient, I'd prefer BBE for a lot of the reasons Terri mentioned. But then, I was never one of those people who found the old BB objectionable. As someone who grew up shopping at the Berkeley Co-op, the too-Berkeley aspects of BB people complain about never even occurred to me.

                                  2. I still shop the "classic" Bowl but miss the original Bowl that was in the old bowling alley. Just saying. Anyway, had a great trip there Friday late afternoon. Uncrowded, lack of trampling, abundant bargain produce (12 mangoes for $2!, organic cherries $1.89/lb, etc.), short line at the checkout.

                                    The dark side: New bagger being trained was unable/unwilling to listen to either me or the person training her and made a hash of my fruit and veggies (instant guac anyone?).
                                    Even more disturbing: July 15th dates on yogurt being sold in the 2nd week of August. Glad I checked.

                                    Does anyone know if BBW is union? I might check it out if it was but will never darken their door if it isn't.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: bbq babe

                                      That question is off topic for this board, but they signed a "card check" agreement with UFCW Local 5, so it's up to the employees.


                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Thank you for the answer and links.

                                        My question was exactly on topic for this thread discussing why we would chose the "old" Bowl over the "new". All other things being close to equal, I will give my business to the Union shop and I'm not the only one.

                                        1. re: bbq babe

                                          While whether a store is unionized or not is at best tangential to our mission of finding deliciousness, we'll allow the basic facts to be posted. Discusion of whether that's a good or a bad thing or should impact your buying decisions or the buying decisions of other people, however, IS off topic and will be removed.

                                    2. I will remain loyal to BBE. I'm just wrapping up a month-long visit to New York City and environs, and habitually shopping at BBE is the only activity I've found on the whole west coast that fully evokes the experience of being a New Yorker. The Bowl is really only marginally shabby (check out any number of supermarkets on the Upper West Side or the outer boroughs), but relative to Mollie Stones/Draegers etc., I guess you could say it is. It can be crowded, but like New York everyone comes up with his own tricks to maximize efficiency. I find the camaraderie level very high, in that particular gallows-humor we're-all-in-this-together way you so often find on an IRT train at rush hour. The ethnic diversity is unsurpassed. It's unpretentious and egalitarian while able to serve the very discerning. And it treats its loyal customers well: some of the cashiers, the meat counterpeople, Dan the wine guy, the lady at the customer service desk don't know my name but all raise an eyebrow in my direction as I pass by. If the day comes that anybody actually experiences a form of emotional connection and fulfillment at BBW, please let me know; call me a weirdo but I really do get all that at BBE as well as all the bountiful and reasonably-priced food.

                                      1. It took me about 10 seconds to gloss BBW "Bowl Foods".

                                        It is slick, clean, well manicured, and looks like it belongs in Sausalito or Moraga.

                                        The eastern store, near the original down and dirty Shattuck location, has my kind of charm. It reminds me of an old neighbor watering hole.

                                        1. One thing that gives me pause about BBW is that there still seem to be quite a few "UPC code is incorrectly programmed" errors (in addition to the new cashiers who just haven't learned all the codes yet). When I went to BBW this past Sunday, two items scanned at almost a dollar more (each!) than what was listed on the shelf. The guy at customer service was really nice about fixing it, but I hate feeling like I have to hover over the cashier and watch every single thing as it's scanned. So I might head back to BBE for my non-produce purchases.

                                          1. I went for the first time in a while and I see that they're not weighing organic produce at the bulk counter, I guess to reduce undercharging due to confusion with non-organic.

                                            I remembered to wear a coat, so didn't freeze at the south end of the store.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Could you clarify? They're not weighing or now weighing? I bought bulk goods a couple of days ago and didn't notice signage there (or in the organic produce section, and I did notice checking my receipt when I was at home that I was undercharged for organic zucchini). Must be brand new.

                                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                I was there last week and had my organic produce weighed and tagged at the bulk counter.

                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  Coincidently, today the checker was telling the cusotmer in front of me at the checkout that organic produce should be weighed in the bulk section. She didn't make the customer go back though, just told her about it for next time.

                                                  An aside, the sugar kiss melons (not organic) are wonderful. Recommended.

                                            2. I have to say since BBW opened, I went back once to BBE but now I just go to BBW since it's plain faster.

                                              I don't like the separate organic/non-o produce, the non-o fruit section feels cold and I like the deli counter people at BBE a lot more (friendly and not slow)...BUT BBW is so much faster.

                                              Getting there, parking and getting out is low hassle factor. I've never spend more then 3 minutes parking, and never had more then 2 people in front of me in checkout line.

                                              I still like BBE over BBW but I save so much time at BBW I'll just continue to go. I'll just get use to BBW.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                Agreed on how much faster and less of a hassle BBW is. I will say, too, that I've found the cheese people and the seafood people at BBW to be quite helpful and accommodating. The deli people, I concur, are not very friendly or helpful.

                                              2. I LOVE the old Berkeley Bowl - great selection of produce (Chinese AND Indian bitter melon, 20+ kinds of apples, etc), and the prices are better than anywhere else in the Bay Area. It's my fave. But I do have some techniques to make it more manageable...
                                                1. Never park in the lot
                                                2. Go right when they open (I go on SAT)
                                                Doing this, I get in and out in under 1/2 hour. And it's the best produce around outside of farmers' markets.

                                                Berkeley Bowl
                                                2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                                                1. I went by at 1pm yesterday, peak Thanksgiving shopping hours. The place was busy but they had plenty of staff so it was not backed up. I was served immediately at the meat counter and at the express checkout.