Slow Down: New Oliver’s Market Opens in Windsor
Karen Preuss and I, both members of Slow Food Russian River, live near Oliver’s Market in Cotati, a store that emphasizes good, clean and fair. It’s not only close to home and convenient, it also carries the stuff I want to buy and then cook and eat at home, including local and organic produce.
The price is usually right and the people who work at Oliver’s are uncommonly friendly and exceedingly helpful. If I can’t find what I want, I ask and help is soon on its way.
When I arrived, the sign outside the main entrance said, “Private Party. Invitation Required for Entry. Open to the Public 7 AM Tomorrow.”
I wasn’t deterred, and, while I didn’t exactly crash the party, I didn’t have an invitation, either. The guys at the front door weren’t sticklers for protocol, and when they recognized me they made me welcome.
I must admit I wandered around in a kind of daze. The new store is huge and certainly way bigger than the Oliver’s Market in Cotati and with expanded sections and services.
It feels like a kind of contemporary cathedral to food and it bombards the senses from every direction.
I might have spent a whole week exploring and mapping the territory. In fact, I was only there for part of an afternoon.
Fortunately, I received a foldout directory that offered Oliver’s Mission Statement — “To provide the communities we serve with the finest grocery store in the marketplace.”
The directory came with a map, a list of all the major products and where they would be found, from applesauce and energy bars to kosher foods, wine, water and yogurt.
I like the fact that Oliver’s Market has a mission statement. And I like it that the statement talks about “communities” — plural — and recognizes that there isn’t just one, single homogenous community here.
Indeed, while Sonoma has clearly shifted toward the grape monoculture, there is a great deal of cultural diversity in the county. There’s also a movement toward local, organic, sustainable and biodynamic farming and ranching that respects land and labor, food producers and food consumers.
Indeed, the cry “good, clean and fair” echoes across our very own backyards and front yards and in our houses.
I spent much of my time in the produce section with fruits and vegetables arranged artistically. For a moment or two, I thought I was in a market in Mexico where vendors almost always arrange produce with an eye on color and shape.
In the produce section in the Windsor Oliver’s, aesthetics clearly matter.
I enjoyed talking with Steve Maass, the founder and owner of Oliver’s Market, along with Mike Petersen, Jeritt Skelton, Ricardo Ortiz, and Huy Ma, who was born in Vietnam and who has worked at Oliver’s since 1988.
They all care about buying and selling the highest quality produce at the lowest possible cost.
Maass wants to make money and stay in business, but he also retains his Sixties idealism. On one of the walls in the store there’s a photo of him as a young, bearded idealist. To this day, he remembers and honors his own roots in the Sixties.
When he departs from this world, he said that he’d like to leave Oliver’s to its employees. I applaud that sentiment.
From the produce department, I made my way to the cheese department where I lingered with coquettish Colette Hatch, the cheese coordinator, who knows heaps about European and American cheeses and is ready, willing and able to share her knowledge. She’s known as “Madame de Fromage,” and I can understand why.
I couldn’t help but notice one of the happy, smiling cheese mongers who had done up his hair for the opening and who showed off some of the many goat, sheep and cow cheeses for sale.
Near the end of my time at the Windsor Oliver’s, I drifted over to the ice cream parlor. I had heard that they were giving away ice cream and I wouldn’t be denied. Who can resist the temptation of free ice cream? Sure enough, the woman behind the counter was scooping generous portions into paper cups that came with small spoons.
Kids loved the free ice cream. I did, too.
It was a blazing hot day and it was a real joy to enjoy the ice cream — I chose the rich, dark chocolate — and to listen to the live music, while some of the visitors to the tavern drank beer and sipped wine.
I’d go back most any time, not only to drink and hear the music, but also to try the food that looked appetizing.
Of course, I’d certainly linger in the produce department, talk with Skelton, Ortiz and Ma, and buy the local, organic produce that’s in season and on sale. I’d also hope to share stories with other shoppers.
If you haven’t been to the new Oliver’s on Old Redwood Highway in Windsor it’s worth a leisurely visit. Yes, it’s candy for the eye — a kind of visual feast. The building itself is a marvel. The people who work inside are friendly and the array of products ought to satisfy the most demanding of shoppers. Does it meet the Slow Food philosophy: good, clean and fair? I’d say so, but why not wander about and you be the judge?
Jonah Raskin, a longtime member of Slow Food Russian River, is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.
Photo Credit: Karen Preuss. Karen, also a longtime member of Slow Food Russian River, takes pictures all across northern California. Visit her website.