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Monterey Market (Berkeley)

I left Monterey Market today in a foul mood.

In the old days, I found Monterey Market a calming, cheering experience. I LOVED to shop there.

But these days, produce is moved higglety piggelty all over the place. Every time I go, it's different, w/ little rhyme/reason. More stuff seems jammed in. I can't find what I'm looking for. I forget stuff that I meant to buy, because I didn't see it. And my nerves end up jangled.

It's a dilemma. The produce is great. But the ambience is no longer a happiness.

I wonder if others have similar feelings.

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  1. Ha, have you shopped at bbowl east recently? I don't shop @ Monterey Market enough to have a strong opinion. But on my last visit there was a sign for French bfast radishes @.98/bu. They wanted to charge me 1.29/bu. I told them it was the wrong price. They asked me to prove it by showing them the sign. When I pointed to the sign ( located down the aisle) they said it no longer applied. The produce guy removed it as I was talking to them! Then they insisted that the sign for Easter egg radishes applied to all. The cashier was talking to her cohorts about how I had the price wrong, in Chinese, which I understand but I think she didn't think I could. It was like shopping in Chinatown--you put up w some rudeness bc prices are cheap. But I get how you might not feel the love. It's like the customer is an adversary!

    1. This subject makes me want to cry. I too used to enjoy shopping Monterey Market, small friendly, good variety of good to great fruits and vegetables and stuff stayed in the same place year after year. Not any more. Even the quality of especially fruits at both MM & BB seems to have diminished. The situation at the old Bowl is horrible the aisles are all over the place. and I suppose they have some rhyme or reason for the new system, but it must be to make more money. I just feel cheated most of the time. I hate shopping anymore. I abandoned Safeway and Andronico's years ago, and never got into the Whole Foods Fad, more bad produce! I fear for the health of my daughter and grandchildren even with their 'healthy' eating habits. It is no wonder so many Americans are obese and unhealthy, good food is not to be had at any price!

      4 Replies
      1. re: anticheryl

        BB's new system opens up the produce area for more organic stuff. The new layout is a bit disorienting, but doesn't seem any less organized than the previous incarnation.

        For what type of items has quality gone down or the price gone up? In the four years I've been shopping there, only the garlic and yellow onions are regularly unfresh, and the bulk of items are as good or better than what I've seen at farmers markets.

        Come to think of it, the original BB is pretty bad at tossing away old wild mushrooms. I've not been there in months, but have always been impressed with the attention MM gives to their wild mushrooms.

        1. re: anticheryl

          Go ahead and hate me but the organic produce at Costco is wonderful and cheaper and lasts longer: Driscoll raspberries, tubs of mixed greens that last 10 days rather than two, etc. Some of the produce isn't organic and I forgo that, but there IS good food at good prices. Laura Chenel chevre, organic meats. Prime meats.

          I stopped going to MM when they started competing with all the little purveyors in the area. I still get my flowers from Mohammed's cart, chocolate from the cheese shop (and sometimes cheese but aside from chevre, I'm not much of a cheese person) etc. Their business practices just didn't seem very nice.

          1. re: rccola

            And Costco's business practices, driving out local business all over the country, do seem nice?

            1. re: gumbolox

              Yeah, they do. They have raised the standard of quality, given wide exposure to producers and allowed people to buy good food, especially organic, inexpensively. Isn't the lack of good, inexpensive food what was lamented above?

              At one point housewives went to diary stores and meat stores and bakeries and greengrocers. Then "grocery stores" took over and put those individual stores out of business because the housewives didn't have to spend so much time going from store to store or maybe they had to work. Then supermarkets...etc.

              Perhaps you feel there should be boutique food only, even if poor people can't afford it. Don't worry, there will always be high-end specialty stores for rich people so they don't have to mingle with Costco shoppers.

        2. Imagine how confused I was when they opened the door that used to be behind the strawberries, very disorienting.

          1. Definitely feel the chaos at MM but still enjoy that they often have unexpected stuff. Wish they had more organic. The mushroom section is always glorious.

            Always preferred the new BB and just revisited old one and was surprised at new layout. Seems like the organic stuff is sequestered. Will just stick with the new one even though it is more out if my way. Have found the shoppers there more relaxed. At the old BB have several people bashing into me with their carts.

            We are very fortunate to have access to the amazing variety of produce here. And there are the farmers' markets too. Shopping at these wonderful stores is a pleasure even though I don't always appreciate the new direction of some.

            5 Replies
            1. re: fruti

              I was just contemplating a similar post about MM. I don't go there as frequently as I used to since BB West opened. This time of year, I typically would leave with a wide variety of fresh stone fruits. The last visit, I barely bought a couple of varieties. Selection just didn't cut it, and overall, I left in a meh mood.

              1. re: fruti

                I actually like the "higglety pigglteiness" of it, as it makes shopping for groceries a bit of a treasure hunt. And it is fun to come across something new perhaps that you have never seen before. As for opening the additional set of doors, sure it was a bit disorienting at first, but happily, I did not require a compass to navigate the store as a result. In fact I considered that a positive, for the real annoyance for me are the shoppers who seem oblivious to the fact that leaving their carts in the middle of the doorway or aisle might block people trying to get through.

                1. re: MagicMarkR

                  I always thought of MM as a bit run down and chaotic and that was just the deal. Use to go when I lived in North Berkeley a long time ago but now it's out of the way.

                  re: BB East changes...I'm probably going to BB West for a while now.

                  1. re: MagicMarkR

                    I agree about the "HP" factor--it actually makes me want to shop there. I have uncovered gems there that I can't get anywhere else for the price (kishu mandarins, matsutakes), and l think they're generally cheaper than BB nowadays, esp. for organics. But if they stepped up the customer service just a notch, I'd actually favor it more.

                    1. re: MagicMarkR

                      I agree that the chaos is charming -- as long as one goes during off hours. I used to shop at the Park Slope Food Coop which was highly organized but crazy packed and find that MM has the same vibe. I think the produce at MM is fantastic (better than BB and sometimes even the farmers market), and I think the reason they sell non fruit/veg stuff is to make ends meet as the margin is pretty slim and I noticed that when I only buy fresh stuff, my bill is quite low. I now try to buy pasta and other things here to try to keep MM in business.

                      I second disapproval the middle of the aisle cart leaving business! And the running into random people so stopping and blocking a dozen people to chat deal. Is this a west coast thing? In NY, one is always cognizant of people trying to make their way and if parking the cart, try to find an unobtrusive corner.

                  2. C'mon people. Monterey mkt is a treasure. Right now for ex, they offer strawberries, clearly labelled from 7 or 8 different farms, most organic. When tomatoes come in, we'll have 20 or 30 diff varieties. Ditto for stone fruit. The quality is pretty good to excellent all around. prices are competitive. Sure they've moved things around, but it's not that big a place. How hard can it be to find what you're looking for. To say that its so confusing you'd rather shop at safeway????

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: katnat

                      Safeway, I'd have to be starving. Maybe I have just grown too old and jaded. I remember when you got to sample a watermelon before you bought it. They (the seller, usually in front of your house in a truck) would stick a knife into three sides of a hole and pull out a plug of melon for you to taste. If you liked it you would buy that melon or if you didn't choose another to sample. I bought one of those small ones at BB last week, thumped it, chose one with bee stings, did everything I knew how to do, and it was a hard little rock with out even any juice. How can they grow things like that? I used to wait all year for Santa Rosa plums to come to BB for a scant 3 or 4 weeks, now they come and go among the Santa every thing but rosas and do you think I can find them? Yes they have great selections and I admit that I bought some purple apricot/plums a few weeks ago that were superb at any price. They were about 3.79. The new tomatoes called Kumatos are to die for IMHO and only 3.19 for five of the little gems. I love that they put out fresh arugula every few hours, but morn the mix that I used to get that had bits of frisee and radicchio and that beautiful little red oak leaf. Yes I am jaded and I want to taste lobster again before I die, and don't know who to trust with the 25 or 30 bucks I know I will have to pay for a little tail. That doesn't sound right, I am a woman. I live alone and on social security, so if I sound crotchety......

                      1. re: anticheryl

                        A propos the universal hatred of Safeway, I am curious to see what the new one on Shattuck will be like. Clearly they are taking advantage of Andronico's woes, an must have figured out finally what a crappy store that branch was, given the neighborhood. The link shows what the new store will look like. Whether all style or actual substance remains to be seen...


                    2. The reorganizations are disconcerting--but I think they are improvements. Wider entrance by having two doors--yes!
                      The other changes are more subtle but also work for me--once I learned them. I did mutter when I couldn't find the usual lettuce mix the first time and thought they only had organic cilantro another time, and felt physically startled by someone coming out through the former wall that is now an open door.
                      Now I like the changes. The organic/other divisions are clearer, my every-week purchases like apples and carrots are easier to get to, and most of all, the wider door is better.

                      1. Come shop in Texas for a while. You'll never complain about the BB or MM again. No, neither one is perfect, but I'd kill to have either one within 150 miles of where I live.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Mike C. Miller

                          Seriously, is there any single vendor market in the US or even abroad that balances quality and variety the way BB does?

                        2. Okay, I give, UNCLE! Please disregard my earlier rant. I just didn't know how good we have it here in California. Well, I did actually know, I was born here, in LA that is, and am still here, so I have a good idea how good it is here.
                          Just returned from a trip to BB. While there I decided to see if I could find avocado oil to season a cast iron skillet. My dog, they have every kind of oil that can be squeezed out of any fruit, vegetable, nut, leaf, you name it they have it. Walked around with new eyes, trying to appreciate the largess. If only they would give out samples a la my other love/hate food procuring palace Trader Joe's!
                          Sorry all you peeps in the fly over states, we do have it all, and feel entitled, and lord it over you, and I for one would love to hear more about how it is for you. I know that life is full of trade offs, and no doubt there are many things we can not even imagine that we are missing by not living a slower, safer, saner, what else? Tell us. Let's communicate what it's really like to live where we live. Maybe this is not the right forum, after all how many people from Iowa or Missouri are going to read or respond to a thread about a little market in Berkeley CA?
                          But I do see that food has the ability to motivate us all to get involved and these forums on chowhound could be a via to more understanding and cohesiveness between us all.
                          That's you sundeck sue, and rubadubgrub and katnat and Mike C. Miller and hyperbowler.
                          That's my 2 cents,

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: anticheryl

                            Well, every year toward the holidays I visit my parents in the midwest, and all I remember seeing in the markets are carrots, celery and lettuce. And it's not even cheap. You cannot make most of the dishes we toss off every night without spending a fortune. Mind you the supermarket is supershiny and the size of an airplane hangar. They have every conceivable processed food. For years now I have packed big boxes of foodstuffs and shipped it home as my luggage. It's a great reminder of why I choose to live here.

                            1. re: rubadubgdub

                              There is a big difference between being grateful for where one lives, and wanting one's formerly favorite store to be back to itself. I just found my recent visits (and especially most recent visit) to MM to be "not the best." It doesn't mean I should compare it to flyover country. It means I want it to be at its best, once again. And it just wasn't "where things were located." It was the selection.

                              1. re: lmnopm

                                I appreciate all the views expressed here. Something to them all. And God knows, when we're East, even in the summer, when there's local produce @ farm stands, I miss CA produce for quality/variety/price.

                                Although I know I'm spending more $$ for the same food these days @ MM, that's not MM, but the cost of produce writ large (I remember an old piece in a local paper that quoted Berkeley resident Mollie Katzen as saying, she loves to shop @ MM and get change back from a twenty--well, no longer!). But, as others have said, it is cheaper than most places in town (including BB). And you can get great fruits and veg

                                Trying to think more about the "vibe" part of why I posted in the first place. Not to be too shrinky, but I think I haven't fully grieved Bill's departure.

                                The tempo/feel BBD (before Bill's departure) was just slower/warmer, seasoned with a sense of personal connection to customers and employees and a relatively small number of small farms (I still have the DVD that I got at MM about those farm-store relationships). Today, there's just more of a commercial buzz.

                            2. re: anticheryl

                              Lived a few houses away from MM for several years. As a private chef shopping at MM, CC, M.P., MF, TF, BB, WF, 6 - 8 different FM's over the years, plus Sigona's. Bill Fujimoto is king. What MM was was fantastic (Ricardo, Trino, Bill). Living in the flyovers now (MSP). I love the pity as well as the whining about how disorganized your embarrassment of riches has become. Food cooperatives that support small/local/cooperatively owned producers are stronger here than anywhere in the nation. Farmer's markets and CSA's thriving. Aquaponic year round production. Exceptional summer harvests and lots of pickling, fermentation, and preservation culture. No it's not a Med climate, but the earthquakes here are milder, bicycles and pedestrians are welcomed, and despite the fact that no one cooks eggs in a spoon, the culinary landscape is percolating nicely. The hogs we raise are shipped to your kitchens and salumi factories and animal farmers are doing well here (amidst the mono crop corporate blech). Hell we even know how to use cold frames and red wigglers in the basement.

                            3. Just got back from MM and then enjoyed a lunch that included impeccably fresh California corn (.39 per ear) and a delicious Knoll Farm green fig (not cheap, but worth it). Also picked up beautiful basil from Tomatero Farm for less than they charge at the San Rafael Farmers Mkt, juicy pesticide free California Valencia oranges, an Indian mango, snowy white organic cauliflower, Oregon shitake mushrooms, organic Blue Lake beans and more. Didn't get the durian. The stone fruit choices were many, but I have my own. The selection seems as good as ever to me. I like the new doors and the smaller carts. Been shopping here for 5 years or so, from time to time, and was a little worried when Bill was ousted. Always somewhat of a hit and miss proposition as I've often noticed that things can get funky on the shelves here. But, I'm careful, and most times I do well. Well enough that lately I've been making weekly trips from San Rafael. Even with the toll and travel I save money, More choices, local and exotic. Many of my favorite local farmers are well represented here, sometimes at 1/2 to 1/3 of the Farmer's Mkt prices on specific in season items. If anything, for my needs, it's gotten better lately, though I never found it a "calming experience", especially not the parking lot.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: gumbolox

                                I have never parked in the parking lot. You are brave.

                                1. re: wally

                                  Is Bill Fujimoto still working with Diablo Foods in Lafayette?

                                  Nice video from last year:


                                  1. re: wally

                                    Ha! I circle the block a few times (if I have to) to find a spot on the street; I'm really afraid of that parking lot. There's a lot of tension there and you risk hitting someone when you back out.

                                    I questioned my own sanity for driving there from SF once or twice a month but once, in line, another couple rec'd a Sancerre (they were buying cases) and said they shopped there regularly and drove there from San Jose!!