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To Market, To Market, To Buy...

Ava's Market—so much more than just a grocery store.

Once again I’m thrilled to be part of the Mountain View community—the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association (OMVNA) to be exact. This group is the best.

OMVNA's Steering Committee organized a potluck event last weekend to support Ava’s Downtown Market. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, Ava’s Downtown Market is located at 340 Castro St. The goal of its new owners, Ann and Juan Origel, is to establish an independent market where shoppers can find a diverse grocery selection specializing in locally grown and produced foods at competitive prices. (Ava's is within walking distance for me— hooray, hooray!)

It’s a family business.

Ann and Juan are ever present, and oh, so friendly and approachable. Look behind the register or down any aisle and you’ll see one or both of their smiling faces looking back. They have four children (Ashley, Andrew, Matthew and Ava) and it’s quite likely you’ll meet one or all of them when you visit the store, which by the way is named for Ava, the youngest.

I don’t know about you, but no one smiles and says, “Hi Joni” when I shop at Safeway or Whole Foods. Sure they smile and even say my name at the checkout after reading the receipt, but they don’t know me. Ann and Juan remember my name and chat with me. I love it!

The concept for the potluck was simple. Shop at Ava’s for the ingredients, then prepare and bring the dish to the event. Could it be easier? The hardest part for most people was probably choosing from the store’s diverse offerings–organic produce, grass-fed meats, Acme bread, Straus dairy products and Marianne’s Ice Cream.

I had a previous engagement that was cancelled so I decided last-minute to attend. I hustled to Ava’s for something quick and easy, there was no time for anything complicated. Ann was at the register when I announced I was looking for something for the potluck. She joined me in the produce section and immediately started offering suggestions. 

I settled on wine and a spinach salad topped with sliced egg and crumbled bacon. I chose a Merlot. Their wine selection is quite respectable. And I bought a of slab bacon; a thick-sliced of a slab bacon. Bacon that almost didn’t make it into the salad. It took a great deal of restraint not to scoff up those crumbled bits. My son-in-law who is picky about bacon would love it! (His father owned a butcher shop.) All ingredients except my mustard vinaigrette came from Ava’s, and the cost didn’t break my bank.

Like most potlucks, there were no limits on "what to bring" and there were dozens of mouthwatering dishes to choose from. Poached salmon, sausage, spicy chicken, salads, Acme bread, fresh pineapple, sweet potatoes, pie, and cookies – the list goes on and on. In this diner’s opinion though there were two outstanding selections.

Ann’s Korean BBQ beef (her mother’s recipe, I think) brought me back for seconds. The pork loin prepared by Ava’s master meat cutter, Rene, was scrumptious. Stuffed with mangos, kiwis, apricots, apples, peaches and cranberries (my mouth is watering as I write). Does anything sound more delicious? I want Ann and Juan to sell both of these items ready to cook. And soon!

If enough people request them...

The potluck was a huge success! I didn’t count heads, but my guess is there were about 75 people in attendance—all laughing and munching and sampling. Ann and Juan were there with the whole family including her dad. Like I said, they're a family operation.

But the best part of the potluck wasn't the food, it was the community spirit. I think when we eat and drink together, share visions and support one another in fulfilling them, we are at our best and it feels good. By the end of the evening there were plans to do another potluck.

Ava’s doesn’t carry everything on my shopping list, but they do stock many things on my list, and they are completely open to suggestions for new items. It may cost a bit more than a larger chain store for some things, but this shopper will make a concerted effort to stop in on a regular basis and buy the items that work for me. It’s hard to resist the friendly atmosphere.

I mean how lucky am I to live where I have the best year-round farmer’s market and now a downtown grocery store.

Get lucky too. Join the growing chorus of supporters. The next time you find yourself downtown, stop in and say "hello." You won’t regret it. You’ll undoubtedly find something on your shopping list; you’ll definitely make new friends. Visit Ava’s website and check out the site’s suggestion and recipe boxes.

If Ava’s succeeds, we all win.

Oh, and just to whet your appetite, Rene told me they’d soon have Roberts Corned Beef available. (Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner.)

Nancy Patton March 15, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Really fun, descriptive column -- makes me want to shop at Ava's immediately!
Joni Ratts March 16, 2012 at 01:01 AM
And they would be delighted to have you shop there. However, it could be quite a commute for you - you're definitely not walking distance. But the next time you're in this area we'll go there for sure!
annette nielsen March 16, 2012 at 06:56 AM
Loved the potluck and picked up a great looking corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage this afternoon. Hope people who frequent the downtown will join us in shopping at Ava's. Thanks for sharing all your insights, Joni.

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