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Why can't the South Bay have a Berkeley Bowl?

I used to live in Berkeley and have since moved to the South Bay after graduating. Though I have found many great restaurants in the South Bay, there are quite a few things I miss about Berkeley. Namely a supermarket like the Berkeley Bowl.

I went to Berkeley Bowl West this weekend. Ah, Berkeley Bowl, you are so awesome. You and your billion citrus fruits and beautiful produce.

Anyone know of an equally good supermarket in the South Bay? Anywhere Palo Alto and south on the west side and Fremont and south on the east.

Though, it's not such a bad thing trekking to Berkeley on a weekend (and eating all the good food in Berkeley too).

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  1. Because the city of Berkeley is not in the South Bay.

    1. The area near the San Antonio Road/El Camino Real intersection in Mountain View isn't too bad for grocery shopping. I'm sure Berkeley Bowl is a lot better, but there's the Milk Pail Market for produce and cheese, Dittmer's for meat and sausages, Esther's German Bakery for bread, Trader Joe's for their unique stuff, a Whole Foods for organics and a Safeway for anything else.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Humbucker

        Di Martini Orchard up the road a little farther is good for produce. Lots of seasonal, local produce with samples of each to try. No place has the variety and scale of BB, but Di Martini has one of the better selections in that area.

        1. re: Humbucker

          You failed to mention Crossroads World Market on San Anotonio. It's a don't miss.

        2. Thanks for the suggestion Humbucker. Milk Pail is very good (I do love their croissants). I'll just have to keep looking for a place with as much produce selection as Berkeley Bowl.

          Thanks, Scott M. I guess my attempt at humorous posting title wasn't as humorous as I would have liked :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: whatwhat

            The best overall produce is at the farmers' markets, like Mountain View on Sunday mornings. For supermarkets, Draeger's and Andronico's are pretty darn good too. Draeger's is better overall for produce, but Andronico's really shines when the Tom Wilson oranges come in from Riverside.


          2. Berkeley Bowl is truly unique, and I wish we had one here, too. Check out Sigona Market at the Stanford Shopping Center, and Consentino's in San Jose for the best oranges and other seasonal, limited quantity produce. No one has the variety and rare foods that BB has, though.

            BTW: Esther's German coffee is great!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Claudette

              There's another Sigona's in Redwood City which is bigger than the Stanford location. It has a larger produce section (with lots of organic items), a small wine selection, and a meat section which includes grass-fed beef (I think it's Marin Sun Farms) and Rocky Jr. chicken - whole and parts. I do almost all my grocery shopping there, supplemented by runs to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

              1. re: goodeatsgal

                Yes, it is Marin Sun Farms they are selling there. Great store.

                Sigona's Farmers Market
                2345 Middlefield Rd, Redwood City, CA

                1. re: goodeatsgal

                  Sigona's is a great store. They were giving little informational seminars about their produce. If you sign up for the e-mails they have great coupons for free stuff!

              2. Probably because real estate prices are astronomical, even compared to Berkeley. Try the farmers' markets in the south bay.

                6 Replies
                1. re: PeterL

                  I don't think so. BB is what it is because of the way it developed: produce has always been at the core of the business, and the clientele grew up with the business, organically, if you'll pardon the pun. I don't think you could or would develop the same kind of market if you started it at supermarket scale and/or with a "top down" approach.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    It would be difficult to grow such a business today because the core customers are already shopping (and are moderately fulfilled) by Whole Foods.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Given a second Berkeley Bowl opened in the same city not far from each other, I don't think it would be difficult at all and seriously Whole Food produce prices have always been obscene.

                      Someone mentioned farmers markets and ethnic markets in the South Bay, but I don't think that is it either. The East Bay has plenty of those. Real estate prices ... pffft ... Berkeley ain't any cheaper.

                      People drive from the South Bay to go to Berkeley Bowl.

                      I think you really need to go back a few decades to see the reason. I moved to California at the end of the 70's and lived for about a decade between SJ and Palo Alto.

                      At that time the South Bay was mainly orchards and fruit stands. Only a few years before I moved in Highway 101 still had traffic lights ... in Sunnyvale. There was that little stretch of 101 just south of San Jose ... what was it called ... deadman's something ... there were tons of fatal accidents there ... and tons of fruit stands. So between the actual orchards and the farmstands, the South Bay had the produce equivalent of Berkeley Bowl ... and actually back then it was better.

                      For the exotic fruits, there was Cosentino's. I remember this was the first supermarket that ever dazzled me with such amazing variety ... it was expensive ... but even then it wasn't Whole Foods or Dragers expensive.

                      Slowly the valley changed. The orchards disappeared, there was a safer bypass on 101, many of the fruit stands closed.

                      The East Bay on the other hand didn't have all those farmers markets and was urban. There was also the transition from the hippy co-op healthy fruit and grains to the Chez Panisse era. Berkeley Bowl developed with their community and met a need.

                      I think a Berkeley Bowl in the South Bay could work today. Sure there's all those mega Asian markets with lots of produce, but it still is a nitch market. There's not a lot of cross-over from other ethnic groups. Also, there is the focus on Asian ingredients.

                      I don't think given the same quality, price point and diversity of produce, many people would have trouble migrating from Draegers or Whole Foods to a Berkeley Bowl type of store.

                      1. re: rworange

                        The new store wasn't starting from scratch, though. It was basically just an expansion of an existing business, using existing management and an existing successful business plan and anchored by existing customer base.

                        I'm not saying that if the management of Berkeley Bowl wanted to open a store in the South Bay it wouldn't work. I'm saying that not just anyone can say, hey, I want to open a store like the Berkeley Bowl. The founders of Berkeley Bowl worked long and hard for many years to grow the business to where it is now -- I don't know if it's still true, but up until fairly recently, Glen Yasuda was still personally doing the produce buying for BB. It would take someone with that kind of commitment to have something that was truly the equivalent of Berkeley Bowl, and since individuals don't usually have access to the kind of capital it takes to start a full-fledged supermarket, they would have to start small and develop the business, just as BB did.

                        The Bowl and its customers grew together, and in fact, developing the kind of customers the Bowl has started even before that, with Monterey Market, and maybe even before *that* with the Berkeley Co-op, which was much more produce oriented than typical supermarkets during my childhood in the '60s. My mother used to come from Oakland to shop at the co-op, and then later all the way to north Berkeley to shop at Monterey Market. When the Bowl hit its stride she changed her alliegence there, because it was so much more convenient than trekking out to North Berkeley. That's the kind of history that allowed the Berkeley Bowl to become the Berkeley Bowl.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          rworange - it was called "blood alley" and deservedly so.

                          Ruth - I totally agree with your astute historical analysis.

                          Thanks to both of you for bringing back all those old food memories.

                          1. re: Claudette

                            Blood alley indeed -- my grandfather was actually killed in a car accident on that stretch many, many years ago. And I going the UCSB when the bypass was completed in the early '80s -- there's still a small stretch of fruit stands right before the new bypass area begins, but nothing like there was before.

                            Santa Clara county used to be famous for its orchards, but no more. That's why it's so important to me to support local agriculture and to pay what some people would consider high prices: to allow farmers to earn a decent living so they don't have to sell their land to developers.

                2. Olson's Cherries carries produce year round. It is hardly BB, but they do carry some less common fruits. You might chat it up with Debra Olson and drop a hint in her ear about the wish for a South Bay version of BB. If anyone could pull it off, she could.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: rworange

                    Olson's Cherries is a local treasure. Deborah Olson's fresh fruit is every bit as good as the fresh fruit at the Berkeley Bowl, if not better. (Berkeley Bowl is my goto place for fresh durian, though I kind of prefer the old store.) But, of course, her variety of fruit is not as extensive. She will soon have pixie tangerines from Ojai, which just might be the best citrus fruit that California produces: http://www.pixietangerine.com/. In the summer, she always carries heirloom stone fruit from Andy's Orchard (http://andysorchard.com/cart/index.ph...) in Morgan Hill. Sad to say, but that high-end stuff doesn't show up at the Berkeley Bowl. It does it show up at Cosentino's Market (unfortunately down to one) though. And it sometimes shows up at the Sigona's at the Stanford Shopping Center. I pity the fools that live in the East Bay! (Just kidding.)

                    1. re: Dave.Pitinga

                      The Pixie tangerine harvest in Ojai is in full swing: http://www.californiacountry.org/feat... .
                      Olson's Cherries has nice large ones (as usual). Cosentino's has smaller ones, at a slightly cheaper price. They are all good.

                      1. re: Dave.Pitinga

                        I stopped by the Berkeley Bowl West yesterday. They had acres of stone fruit that had been picked way to early. (Can you say Safeway?) If you ever get tired of breaking your teeth on that stuff, Andy Mariani is shipping tree-ripened heirloom stone fruit now to Sigona's Market in Palo Alto, CJ Olson Cherries in Sunnyvale, and Cosentino's in San Jose. And, of course, he has his own farm stand in Morgan Hill: http://andysorchard.com/cart/index.php . He's not Big Agriculture, so don't expect to see that sort of pricing.

                  2. Quick side note: Monterey Market tried a location at Stanford Mall back in the 90's and it didn't work.

                    1 Reply
                    1. A Berkeley Bowl or, even better, a Rainbow Grocery, would be great. But you're not going to find such a thing, alas. It's a different culture down here. I second the farmers market recommendations. That's the way to go. Lots of great produce at a bit better prices than what you might find at the SF and Berkeley markets. Plus, there's grass fed meat at the Mountain View and Campbell (Prather!) markets, among others. I buy my produce and some other odds and ends at the Mountain View farmers market most every Sunday and never wish I could go elsewhere for those things.

                      For all sorts of other items and the general food culture, you'll continue to enjoy visiting Berkeley. Over time, you'll find various little spots for this item and that.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: maigre

                        agreed about the farmers market. i live in the east bay, so i get to shop at the bowl every week. But, I lived in Palo Alto for 5 years previously and the way I got fresh produce was through the farmers markets, specifically the Mountain View one on Sunday, which i feel is the best market in the bay area given price and selection (i know the ferry market is much larger, but the prices are definitely higher). If you cant make the Sunday Market, just go a little further south and try the Sunnyvale market...smaller, but should easily cater to your produce needs.

                      2. Try Foothill Produce at the strip mall with Trader Joes in Los Altos- Homestead @ Foothill.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: oaktowngirl

                          Yes, produce variety is similar to Mail Pail Market in Mtn. View.

                        2. I love Lunardi's for their produce. In particular, their fruit is always of top-quality. I love to buy my apples, oranges, pears, pineapple, mangoes and papayas there. I once commented to a produce department worker there how great their fruit always is, and he replied that fruit vendors know that they can't mess with Mr. Lunardi.

                          There are several across the peninsula. The one I visit most is in San Jose, at 4650 Meridian at Branham Lane. There is another in Los Gatos, and one in Burlingame, too.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: teela brown

                            There is a Lunardi's near me in Belmont and I didn't notice any difference in the produce between them and other supermarkets. Same wasington apples, Chiquita bananas, Peruvian grapes, Mexican tomatoes, as everyone. Did you catch any specifics and good examples of better produce at the one you mentioned?

                            1. re: Shane Greenwood

                              I do like Lunardi's produce. I usually go for their sale organic produce which is very fresh. I also think the Lunardi's meat at Belmont is generally pretty good, but I've been shopping more at Bianchini's in San Carlos since their fish is better, they have Mary's Chicken, Marin Sun Farms ground beef and Kobe brisket and sirloin roast. They also have the best in-house made tortilla chips.

                              1. re: peppatty

                                Bianchini's is good. That is where I shop too. I didn't mention it because it's a little out of range and scope for the OP. But yes, they have better produce options than any other store around here. They source a portion of produce, meat and cheese from organic, local, sustainable businesses. I do appreciate that. You can expect to find Marin Sun Farms beef and sometimes fresh eggs from their ranch. Also Mary's, Acme bread, several local farms, etc. I spoke with the cheesemonger about Harley and they are trying to get them too. And yes, those chips are great.

                            2. re: teela brown

                              I recently found one at San Bruno and Skyline -- very clean, nice produce.

                              1. re: walker

                                Can you or teela give us a recap of the produce at Lunardi's? Where is it coming from? How does it compare to Berkely Bowl? My experience with the Lunardi's by me is that they carry mostly bulk produce from out of the area. But if some stores carry different stock, it would be good to know what our options are. In general, I haven't seen any place that comes close to Berkley Bowl's variety, but DiMartini's, Sigona's, and Milk Pail have the best selection of local and seasonal produce that I've seen around here.

                                1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                  I cannot answer your questions about Lunardi's. Only been to the San Bruno one once, recently. Never liked the one in Burlingame. (I can't stand grocery stores with stinky meat departments.) (I don't buy meats at BB either, for that same reason. Best place for meat, chicken, fish, IMO, is Bryan's at California/Laurel.)

                                  Nothing compares with Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market. I drive all the way to Berkeley (from SF) once or twice a month. (I dislike that I-80 and bridge traffic.)

                                  1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                    I am a Lunardi's regular, their produce is limited, probably sourced by price with a limited selection of ethnic/seasonal items. They have excellent quality, both organic and "non" organic choices, but their selection is not of the range of BB.

                                    Lowest banana prices I have found in San Jose are at Lunardi's.

                                    For the OP; the area Asian and Hispanic Supermarkets have a more diverse selection and often much lower prices than Safeway/Lucky's/PW/Lunardis/Cosentinos. Princeton Plaza's Farmer's market carries more non mainstream produce than Japantown and Kaiser.

                                    1. re: Alan408

                                      Lower banana prices than Trader Joe's.

                                      1. re: Alan408

                                        That's a good point about the ethnic markets in the South Bay. If you want Italian chestnuts (in season around Thanksgiving) or artichokes (preferably with needles and frost-kissed; sadly that season just ended) go to an Italian market like Cosentino's or Piazza's. If you want chiles (in cold storage since last fall), go to the big Mi Pueblo down on Story and King. If want cheap citrus (in season now) or fresh lychees (summerish), go to Marina Food in Cupertino. If you want cheap fava beans (later this spring), go to a Persian market like Rose's in Mountain View. The South Bay really shines in its variety of ethnic markets. Of course, that produce will not be organic but it will be good and inexpensive, probably even less expensive than the farmer markets.

                                        Having said that, I want to relate a true story from last year about the Berkeley Bowl. I was up in Berkeley last summer and decided to stop at the Berkeley Bowl for some summer fruit. I like to support the growers on the US Slow Food Ark of Taste (http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/...; click on FRUITS) because their varieties taste so good but are so difficult to grow, pick, ship, and keep that they are disappearing. On that particular day, I could not find any decent Ark fruit at the Berkeley Bowl. So I drove down to Deborah Olson's urban fruit stand in Sunnyvale and walked out with a couple of full bags.