Friday, October 15, 2010
Chuck's Produce & Street Market Recon Mission
So I went to Chuck's on opening day and here are my thoughts.
On the plus side, Chuck's is indeed carrying a larger variety of "locally" grown and produced products than any grocery store I know of in Clark County. I do think the term "local" being used liberally by the folks at Chuck's.
Local = anything grown in Oregon or Washington or anything processed and sold by a company located in either state.
The produce selection is of very good quality and variety and the organic section is a bit better than that found at many Fred Meyer stores, but be aware that probably 80% of their produce is conventionally grown.
The grocery section is filled with a cornucopia of more unusual, exotic, and gourmet type products. Some organic, most not. It reminds me quite a bit of Zupan's.
The bakery/deli/ice cream shop almost seemed like an afterthought. The employees did not seem terribly knowledgeable or well-trained. The deli selection was very mid-range and there was no sign of anything produced in an artisan or sustainable manner. The bakery offered mostly white wheat flour products and the selection was small. I suggest walking across the parking lot to the venerable and much more experienced folks at Larson's for your baked goods. The cheese counter wasn't any better than that offered at most Fred Meyer stores and besides the gratuitous inclusion of the commonly found Beecher's and Rogue Creamery items, the only other "locally" produced cheese I saw was some River's Edge goat cheese. Finally, don't expect to load up on ANY pork products. That's right. No ham, no liverwurst, no salami. We'll talk more about that in a minute.
The prepared deli foods looked unappetizing and were somewhat less than imaginative. There are custom made sandwiches available, just like you find at most grocery stores these days. A salad bar and soup kiosk are well stocked for light lunches. And there is an ice cream shop located in the same area of the store, serving gelato and soft serve ice cream. Pizzas were being baked in an impressively large "wood-fired" oven. However, it was a model that utilizes gas, infrared and wood fire options...and I saw no evidence of wood actually being burned in the oven while I was there.
A small and, in my opinion, tragically understocked beer & wine section is located near the ice cream shop & gift store. Although I was pleased to find brews offered by Hopworks Urban Brewing and Laurelwood Brewing on sale for a very nice price.
My biggest surprise came when I visited the meat counter. I asked one of the butchers if they carried pork belly so I could cure another batch of bacon. I was informed that the store would carry no pork or shellfish products due to the religious beliefs of the store ownership group. So no bacon, no sausage, no baby back ribs, no oysters, no scallops, no clams. This was a deal killer for me, but perhaps there are more people than I imagine in Clark County who don't mind either eliminating those items from their pantry or shopping for them elsewhere. The beef selection was Country Natural Beef (the same suppliers of beef for Burgerville). Fewer cuts available than I'd like (no bone-in rib eye, brisket or 7 bone roasts) and many of the cuts appeared to be low to mid range "Choice" grade. It was also unfortunate to note that although they had a decent selection of lamb, they weren't using any of Southwest Washington's several lamb producers for their supply. They also carry a small amount of pre-packaged organic chicken, a larger selection of "free-range" chicken, and a plethora of "natural" and Tyson brand poultry products.
So there you have it. Chuck's occupies a very interesting niche in our community food system. This store is being billed as a "prototype" store, so that leads me to believe that things may very well change and that the store ownership group might be interested in your feedback. I personally think the present incarnation of Chuck's is little more than a watered down version of Zupan's market. When you visit Chuck's you won't find the store to fulfill your foodie dreams. And if you are a passionate proponent of locally produced food, you won't find a store that bridges that gap between the farmers' market and Whole Foods. But you will find our small town charm when dealing the store staff and you will find numerous items to impress your Winco patronizing friends and neighbors.
I hope that they make a greater effort to help our local farmers with shelf space for their products and that our local food community takes advantage of that door if it opens for them.
And I would like to say "Thank you, Chuck's." for reusing an existing empty retail space rather than building another strip mall and for employing over one hundred members of our community.
Here's a link to a photo album of my visit to Chuck's Produce & Street Market.
P.S. - Don't plan any shopping forays to Chuck's on a Saturday. Saturday closure is also another of Chuck's ownership group's religious based decisions.