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Apr 26, 2013 12:46 PM

"Oakland at work: Wholesale produce at Jack London Square"

From, a quality local blog produced by graduate students at UC Berkeley's School of Journalism:

"It’s 4 am in Oakland, and Franklin Street is buzzing with the sound of forklifts, shouting and trucks in reverse. At one storefront, Van Lam checks produce prices on a computer and enters them using a handheld mobile device. Though restaurant owners and shopkeepers are just starting to filter into the wholesale produce stall, Lam’s been there since 2 a.m. He’s there nearly every morning at the same time.
"Lam stocks a variety of produce, ranging from his own favorite tropical fruits to bell peppers and tomatoes. They come from places like Salinas, Hawaii and Mexico. And they end up at small Asian stores around the city, local markets like Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market and restaurants in both the East Bay and San Francisco."

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  1. West Coast is the busiest /biggest of the produce vendors in JLS. especially for asian oriented produce. .

    service can be slow (up to 1/2 hours wait in the early morning). pricing is up to the salesperson. no prices are posted. informed buyers can get a better price.

    parking is terrible. one parks wherever possible (usually illegally), produce prices highest on mondays and decreases thru the rest of the week (unless market conditions dictate higher pricing-shortages)

    produce market usually close by 10 a.m..

    8 Replies
    1. re: shanghaikid

      thanks for the info. do you know what time might be good to take some photos? 5am or 6am or 7am or whatever? anyplace to eat that opens early in that area?

      1. re: zippo

        sunrise is 6:30ish. not a shutterbug so wouldn't know when is good to take photos

        chop bar 247-4th st
        ben's (chinese) 398-3rd st.
        buttercup 229 broadway
        oakland grill 301 franklin st (opens 8)
        nido's 444 oak (opens 10:30/11)
        cafe lizzi 461-2nd st.
        not sure when ben's, others open by 7 a.m.

        1. re: shanghaikid

          Wondering if you could please tell us more about Ben's in this new thread,

          1. re: shanghaikid

            Here are some pictures I took about 2 weeks ago at the Oakland Produce Market around 7 -7:30 am. If you click on "Start Slideshow" in the upper right, you get an animated slideshow with music (Aaron Copland's Piano Sonata, 1941).


            I want to go back and add some video clips of the hectic pace of nearly constantly moving hand trucks and fork lifts.

            Ben's on 3rd St next to West Coast Produce looked like it had an interesting blend of customers: civil service employees from nearby government offices, hipsters and produce market workers. The view from the 4x4 tops on the ground floor of Ben's offers a safe yet close-up look at the action just outside its windows.

            Blue Bottle Coffee at 300 Webster (at 3rd St) opens its coffee bar at 7 am on weekdays and 8 am on weekends. They also have a roastery on this site.

            Nido, a few blocks to the east at 444 Oak, opens a take-out window at 8 am on Tuesday - Friday and sells slices of Jaynelle St. Jean's savory PieTisserie pies and a cup of coffee for $5.

            Here's Luke Tsai on Jaynelle's pies:

            We found some free parking until 10 am near the Cost Plus Market on 2nd Street about 2 blocks west of Broadway.

            Sounds like this could have the makings of an interesting early bird tour/Chowdown some morning at 6:30 am or so.

            1. re: shanghaikid

              Here are some photos from the Oakland Produce Market taken on Thursday, 6/20 at about 8:00 to 8:30 am showing rhubarb, mangoes, lemons and more while, at the same time, giving me an opportunity to learn a bit about where our food comes from. There's interesting artwork on the boxes and I had I a chance to get more familiar with my new camera, an Olympus XZ-1, a compact mirrorless. Afterwards, walked about 5 blocks east, passing a handful of people having breakfast at Chop Bar on 4th Street near Alice, to Nido on Oak St near 5th, and got a savory breakfast pie and coffee from Jaynelle.

              This slideshow has a musical score and to start it just click on "Start Slideshow" in the upper right-hand corner. You can adjust the speed and volume on the right side of the bar at the bottom:


              1. re: zippo

                Details on the savory pie, please?

                1. re: sydthekyd

                  I think that Luke Tsai describes it better than I can in the 2nd paragraph of his article in the East Bay Express a few months ago:


                  I had the vegetarian quiche version that had just come out of the oven and the crust was greaseless and flaky. I was the only patron sitting inside of Nido at about 9 am but did see other customers pick up orders from the take-out window which faces Oak St. There were also a dozen or so pies listed on a wall board, including a rhubarb/strawberry, chocolate cream pretzel and, maybe, Okinawan Sweet Potato.

                  A cup of coffee with a full refill and the pie were $5.

                  Here's another thread on PieTisserie:


            2. re: zippo

              I often have breakfast at Buttercup and just park in their lot if I have the car (they open at 6). Because I used to work at night this was an easy option and their breakfast is pretty good. After breakfast I'd amble over to see what is new in produce-land and it's like a visit to a different country where I don't speak the language. However, after a few weeks the faces become familiar, excellent deals to be had and you learn quickly who will deal with you and speaks a bit of English (West Coast is one of those places). I shrug at my friends who get CSA farm boxes and always buy a bit extra to share.

              It's not for everyone, but I am also the type who likes thrift stores and garage sales and meeting new people and I consider my produce forays a bit of this. I like to go on Tuesdays. Because I no longer work at night, I often just bike over and this works quite well unless there's great deals on watermelon or something. 6:30 is a good time for pics--I have taken a few myself.

              The other great thing is meeting some chefs--if I ever wanted to get back into cooking in a real kitchen, these are the guys I would hit up for a job!

          2. We're fortunate to have wholesale produce markets in Oakland and San Francisco. When I started to hear about other parts of the country trying to set up "food hubs" to improve fresh produce distribution efficiency, I wondered why the need until I learned that not every major city has distribution points like this.

            Here's Jonathan Kauffman's "ProChoys" piece for Lucky Peach about the SF market.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              The "Pro Choys" piece is a lively and brilliant bunch of writing. Thanks for posting the link, Melanie.

              1. re: Tripeler

                Jonathan Kauffman is one of my favorite food writers anywhere. Now that he's the SF editor for Tastingtable, his pieces there don't appear with a byline. But I still feel I can pick out the ones he writes himself. And it is a pleasure to read his long form writing elsewhere.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                How does a city get by without a wholesale produce market? That possibility never occurred to me.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Exactly! It never occurred to me either because the ones in SF and Oakland are such a part of the fabric of our food system. Sort of embarrassed myself on a conference call a few years ago where the idea of food hub design was being presented. After listening to a few details, I asked, "That sounds like a wholesale produce market + a retail farmers market, what's unique about it?" And then I was informed that quite a few urban centers do not have them and food waste and transportation costs lead to higher produce costs in those areas. So many barriers to people getting fresh food.

                  Here's a piece about Seattle's situation with a graphic that addresses your question.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    When you think about it, it's not so surprising, since California is one of the few places that produces large quantities of consumer produce (as opposed to crops that need to be processed, like wheat or soybeans) year round AND does it in proximity to both large population centers and transit hubs.

                    "California's agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. The state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables."


                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Not just California grown produce but crops that arrive by air and ship from abroad and other states for consumption in the Bay Area.

                      NY's Hunts Point market is the largest wholesale produce market in the world.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I think Rungis is larger by most measures.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      I think in the 1940s all major US metropolitan areas had wholesale produce markets, and some were since supplanted by chain supermarkets with their own private distribution systems.


                2. OaklandNorth.Net:"Oakland’s century-old midnight market in images"


                  As the rest of Oakland is either asleep or stumbling home from the bars, the corner of 3rd and Franklin is aglow with sobering fluorescent lights and crowds of small business owners bargaining for crates of fresh nopales, pallets of green beans, and 20-pound bags of onions. They will take the wholesale produce they buy here back to their restaurants, their cafes and their taco trucks, and prepare it for the day’s business before most of their customers are awake.