Pasty Chef Jenny Raven found…

A remarkable Cherimoya –El Bumpo!

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Anyone who ever rooted around in the back storage coolers of Monterey Market under the stewardship of Bill Fujimoto knows what a truly magical place it was. The relationships Bill fostered made going to Monterey Market quite like a treasure hunt, because he often only bought a small amount of cases of produce from some specialty farmers, and if you didn’t know they were there, you’d miss them. To catch Bill himself in the back room always led to a wonderful conversation, and invariably led to leaving with some amazing box of fruit or vegetables. So when he left Monterey Market, one of my first thoughts was (selfishly), now where am I going to get those awesome cherimoyas?

Like many of the cool fruits he bought for the market, the Toro Creek cherimoyas were there because of a personal relationship fostered by Bill. The weird tropical fruit so resembling a cross between an avocado and an artichoke, with its mild vanilla-melony flavor, came from a friend’s llama ranch, and were of such superior quality because Bill was in contact with his friends every year as cherimoya season approached, reminding them not to pick before the fruit ripened properly. I knew no one else could get ahold of these fancifully named “El Bumpo” cherimoyas.

So when we heard Bill was to work as a consultant to Cooks Produce Co, from whom we buy fruits and vegetables regularly, I was overjoyed… and when spring came, I made that phone call: “so Bill, about those El Bumpos…..”

Tonight we’ll be serving cherimoya sorbetto. Thanks, Bill!

Canales & Fujimoto Walk The Market

Yesterday’s solstice officially marked the beginning of summer, but already the markets are bursting with incredible produce. New things keep showing up every week; out of this world strawberries, followed by cherries and the rest of the stone fruits, summer squashes, pole beans, and right around the corner the first of the figs.

Last Tuesday, Chef Paul Canales and Bill Fujimoto met up at the Derby Street Farmers’ Market in Berkeley to get a taste of what’s great right now, and also to show us what to look for as the summer progresses.

video shot and edited by Ben Schwartz

Bill Fujimoto: After Monterey Market

Here is a brief update/comment from Bill on what’s going on for him after leaving Monterey Market. It’s an enormously complicated and difficult situation for him, and obviously, there are things he cannot say. We see farmers everyday who are affected by Bill not being at Monterey Market, some who have stopped deliveries in support of Bill, and some who continue to deliver (diminished orders), but feel bad about it. To some farmers, Bill’s departure is devastating. Most of our food comes directly from farmer’s deliveries to the restaurant and farmers’ markets, so it is only our pastry chef, Jenny Raven, who is scrambling for alternatives. Jenny gets exceptional berries and figs, and ripe, full-flavored citrus, from Bill.

The email link for support of Bill is: friendsofmarket@gmail.com. And we will also try to keep up with developments. This situation doesn’t seem to make any sense, and we remain hopeful that the family board will find a way to return Bill to full control of Monterey Market.

June 13th, 2009|Monterey Market, Suppliers|0 Comments

Bill and Judy Fujimoto Leave Monterey Market

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Many people looked here to find information about what was happening with Monterey Market and Bill Fujimoto. We remain very concerned and will try to post updates as we have them. Yesterday, Bill and Judy Fujimoto were no longer employed by Monterey Market. Although it had been reported that Bill will be retiring, this is not the case. Bill needs to work. But, after making Monterey Market his whole life for the past thirty years, he’ll take some time to figure out what he wants to do next. Many, including us, remain hopeful that the family board will come to their senses. We’ll also be talking to local farmers as they figure out how Bill’s leaving will be affecting them. Lisa Brenneis sent us the following report of the scene at Monterey Market on Wednesday.

From: Lisa Brenneis
Date: June 4, 2009 11:21:45 AM PDT
To: friendsofmarket@gmail.com
Subject: Monterey Market bids farewell to Bill and Judy-short report and pics

For those friends who missed Bill and Judy’s last day as employees of the Monterey Market:

Here’s an eyewitness account of the scene as they departed:

“Yesterday afternoon’s gathering at Monterey Market was very fine, and emotional. A crowd of about 200 people filled the street adjacent to the parking lot (the cross street of Hopkins) and when Bill and Judy came out everyone started clapping and continued with enthusiastic applause for a really long time. Tears and cheers.

Bill made a short statement, along with a few interjections from Judy, that was all about how much he loves what he does and that the strength of it all comes from the farmers, staff, and community of shoppers. Someone supplied a box of delicious cherries for the crowd, Bill and Judy were decked with Leis, and everyone stood about talking, sharing thoughts and memories. It was really came across as a heartfelt demonstration of support, thanks, and appreciation for the tremendous contributions Bill and Judy have made to so many communities these past many years.”

Here’s the link to a small web slideshow of yesterday’s event — pictures by Travis Fretter and Jon Brenneis (my dad!): http://picasaweb.google.com/friendsofmarket

If you have decided to take action, either by contacting the new management to express your support for Bill and Judy and/or temporarily boycotting the store, please send an email to friendsofmarket@gmail.com to let support coordinators know — so they have a rough count and a place to go to contact supporters with occasional updates.

*****

Community support continues to build, and a number of events are being planned. We will post updates on such events when we hear about them.

A celebration to honor Bill and Judy Fujimoto will occur on Sunday, June 28 from 2-5pm at MLK Jr Park (between the track and the pool on Hopkins St.) This event is open to everyone in the community.

June 5th, 2009|Monterey Market, Suppliers|0 Comments

Monterey Market

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The news of discord at Monterey Market is terribly serious and important. If this is new information for you, the short version is that Bill Fujimoto, the head of Monterey Market in Berkeley (and for many, the heart of Northern California’s extraordinary small farm food revolution over the past 30 years), has been at odds with family members about the way the business is run, and he and his wife Judy have resigned effective June 3, 2009.

In hopes of reversing this outcome, many people have suggested notifying the Fujimoto family Board members of their intention to no longer shop at Monterey Market after June 3. We completely support Bill and Judy, but have waited to write something, hoping that the family could find an agreement, and not wanting to inflame a sensitive situation. But it seems to have reached inferno status, with email campaigns flying all over the Bay Area.

Yesterday, a friend emailed:
Do we want to threaten boycotts on businesses when a partner or employee is pushed out (legally, of course)?
Do we know that Monterey Market will go down the tubes if Bill is gone?

So, speaking for myself, a couple of points:

  1. All organic/sustainable food is far from equal. There is constant pressure on our food system to cut corners, cheapen, misrepresent and deceive. Trust is probably the only worthwhile and true “certification” possible. Bill’s family may do a fine job with the store, but this situation bodes ill, and we don’t know them. We trust Bill.
  2. To say that Bill is central to much of the wonderful food, innovation, community, ideas, jobs, and values that developed from the small farm movement that started here in Northern California in the 1970’s, then spread to other parts of the country, and back to Europe, would suggest that he deserves our loyalty. But beyond that, our local culture isn’t a thing of the past. It remains vital, and Bill remains in the middle of it. He is needed and he deserves our loyalty.

We sincerely hope that the Board of Monterey Market will find a way to go forward with Bill at the head, free to run the business in his truly remarkable way. Losing Bill at Monterey Market is too great a blow to a food community that is struggling already.

Below, is a note from Bill and a statement from our good friend and tangerine grower Lisa Brenneis, that creates a clear picture of what is so unique and important about Monterey Market and includes information on how you may respond.

From: Bill Fujimoto
Date: Tue, 12 May 2009 23:28:05 -0700

Dear Friends & Family:

Judy and I have been touched by all of the outpouring of support, encouragement and hope that you have showered upon on us during these last few months. It’s been truly emotional and overwhelming, and we are so lucky to have you in our lives.

To address some of your collective comments directly, recent actions and involvement from the Board of Monterey Market has forced me to examine very seriously whether my vision of Monterey Market, a vision that I shared with my late brother Ken Fujimoto, is in line with the remaining Board’s vision. Monterey Market’s Board now includes my brother Robert Fujimoto, and his wife Nancy Fujimoto, his son Scott Fujimoto and his son Steven Fujimoto, and my sister Gloria Fujimoto. Regardless of disagreements in vision, I am and will continue to be compliant and productive as a Shareholder, Board Member, and Chief Operating Officer.

For me, Monterey Market has been a true labor of love and a member of my family for the last 30 years. Since leaving my job as a Silicon Valley mechanical engineer to become a green grocer in Berkeley in 1978, the Market has inextricably changed my life and that of my family’s. It’s provided Judy, Annie, Amy, and me exposure to so many wonderful experiences, including the opportunity to connect with talented, passionate people in the most amazing community in the world.

My parents, Tom and Mary, believed that the Berkeley community was the only place to foster such a nurturing, open-minded, and all-embracing attitude where shoppers would be open to trying a funky little place called Monterey Market. However, it’s because of supporters like you that I’ve loved every second — from the 2AM rising for the wholesale market to the last shopper on Christmas Eve. It’s because of supporters like you that the Market has never been running more smoothly in the last 10 years. It’s because of supporters like you that even in a tempestuous economy, business has never been better.

Regardless of where this current path takes us, Judy and I are so thankful for your continued support, collective voice, and vigilance.

Bill

And from Lisa Brenneis:

Thoughts on the Monterey Market

I love the Monterey Market. It’s a living example of what a grocery store can do for people, and what people can do for a grocery store.

Monterey Market is packed with food, packed with people, packed with ideas, sometimes it’s just packed solid.

Most of what I love about the Market comes from Bill Fujimoto. The Market evolved as an extension of Bill’s interests, attitudes and passions — a legacy he inherited from his folks, market founders Tom and Mary Fujimoto. Bill listens to customers. He’s endlessly knowledgable about where to find quality and value in produce and tireless in seeking it out. He works side-by-side with his great staff; most guys on the floor at Monterey Market know more about good produce than a chain store buyer.

We’ve been selling pixie tangerines and other eccentric citrus to Bill for almost 20 years. We’re not the only growers who consult Bill on national market conditions, inquire about our competition, ask his advice on pricing, or bring him our latest discoveries.

He picked us up when we were just starting out and taught us how to market direct to retail, buying our fruit and making a market for a new tangerine variety. Farmers up and down California can tell you the same story, “Bill was my first customer.”

Many growers you buy from direct can afford to sell you 2 pounds of dry-farmed tomatoes at the local farmers market because they dropped off 650 pounds at Monterey Market on their way into town. Ask them.

Bill buys for flavor and rewards quality. Buying and selling ripe fruit is a highwire act that very few grocers even attempt, and you can’t do it at all unless your growers and your customers trust you enough to shoulder part of the risk. Bill earns the trust of his customers, repeatedly rewarding risk-takers by delivering that rarest thing–a ripe piece of fruit in full flavor. Hot, responsive customers & Bill team up to coax growers into holding that fruit until the perfect moment. Handling ripe fruit is an art, not a science and everybody loses a little fruit to the compost bin. Small price.

The dominant model in food retailing has become a zero-sum game. Grocery chain operators order and plan months ahead of time. If July rolls around and it’s the best peach crop in 20 years, chain buyers react by grinding their suppliers down on price. They won’t drop the price their customers pay; they keep the markup. And incredibly, they don’t order and sell more peaches when there’s plenty available. According to the chain playbook selling more peaches means you’re going to sell less of something else. Zero-sum. So in a great peach year, peach growers are despondent and near ruin, customers pay the same high prices and, because the peaches were picked green so they taste like cardboard, they don’t buy more.

At the Monterey Market, if it’s the best peach crop in 20 years, you’re going to get good peaches at a great price, and unbelieveable peaches at the best price out there, and you’ll get the first peaches, and the last peaches. Growers will sell a lot of peaches, and customers will buy more peaches than they ever dreamed possible and get peach stains on all their t-shirts and have a great summer.

Bill’s in the middle, cheering for the growers when they bring the crop in, winning the customers by talking up the fruit. Talking to everybody, connecting everybody. Trusting everybody.

Independent grocers with the skills to do what Bill does are vanishingly rare. If the Monterey Market turns into a dull-normal “gourmet” corner store with expensive prices and the same produce you see elsewhere, Berkeley will be a darker and colder place.

That’s why Jim and I feel we need to suspend sales to the Monterey Market as of Bill and Judy’s last day — June 3rd.

While not supplying Monterey Market will hurt, and not having it there to shop at will also hurt, it’s meant to be a temporary thing. It’s meant to help Bill & Judy get the control of the Monterey Market that will allow them to run it as they have in the past.

We’re hoping that a demonstration of our support for Bill and Judy might cause his family members to reconsider their actions. It may not work, but Bill and Judy have been too important to our lives and businesses to allow their departure to go unnoticed.

Customers and suppliers who want to indicate their support for Bill and Judy can to write to:

Monterey Market
Attn: Board of Directors
1550 Hopkins St.
Berkeley, CA 94707

Let them know how you feel. If you’re a good customer, tell them. If you’re going to stop spending money there until the situation is resolved, tell them. If you can drop the letter off in person, better.

One more thing: Because these appeals get forwarded there’s an email address being used as a way to collect names and post updates.

If you decide to take action, either by contacting the new management to express your displeasure and/or boycotting the store, please send an email to friendsofmarket@gmail.com to let support coordinators know — so they have a rough count and a place to go to contact supporters.

Don’t give up. Thanks.

Lisa Brenneis

Churchill-Brenneis Orchard

 

“Eat at Bill’s – Life in the Monterey Market”

May 31st, 2009|Monterey Market, Suppliers|0 Comments

Monterey Market – Profile

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Established 1961

Owners

The Fujimoto family

The store was founded in 1961 by Tom Takumi Fujimoto and his wife Mary Nobori Fujimoto. After emigrating from Japan with his father in the 20s, Tom endured much hardship, working at age 15 in an Oregon lumber mill. After meeting and marrying Mary, he started a celery farm in the 30’s. It was confiscated when he, his wife, and children were interned during WWII. After the war, the youngest and fourth child, Bill, was born, and the family started over first on a farm in Idaho, then with a produce business in LA, then several retail produce ventures in Oakland. Finally he began a market at 1452 Hopkins St., beginning as a full-service store with a butcher. When two of his sons, Ken and Bill, were fully active in the store, he purchased the larger property at 1550 Hopkins and the store expanded.

Tom’s retirement was gradual. He was working 48-hour weeks at the age of 81, in 1986. But when his oldest and youngest sons, Ken and Bill, both previously engineers, came to work full time in the market, Tom retired fully. He died in 1993. Mary had died in 1987.

Ken went on to run a sister produce market in Palo Alto for 11 years. He died of cancer in February 2007.

Bill learned a great deal from his father Tom before he took over the running of the business with Ken. He endeavors to provide a market for worthy small farmers of all experience, and access to the best produce available to the neighborhood. He eagerly shares his knowledge and advice with new growers about marketing and pricing and gives them an outlet for their new products. He is close to the staff on the floor who, in turn, convey to the customers what is special about each item and, in some cases with unusual fruits and vegetables, how to cook or serve them. He seeks out what his customers ask for, and buys ripe fruit and vegetables at their prime that have only a short shelf-life left, accepting the risk that they may not sell quickly. He gives the farmers a fair price for their produce, and charges a fair price to his customers. He has introduced his customers, many of whom are chefs at both big and small restaurants, to new and unusual fruits and vegetables. He carries foraged as well as farmed food, always careful about its quality.

As the folks from Churchill-Brenneis Orchard, a small tangerine and avocado farm in Ojai, say, “Farmers from up and down California can tell you the same story, ‘Bill was my first customer.’ “

Challenges

Buying ripe fruits and vegetables, introducing customers to new items and getting them to try them, dealing with so many farmers on a small scale, are only a few of the challenges of this type of produce business.

Principles

Monterey Market endeavors to be a neighborhood store selling exciting, healthful, delicious produce at reasonable prices.

Practices

Always willing to try new things and experiment. Seek out farmers who are passionate about their products. Seek out feedback from local chefs.

Length of relationship with Oliveto

Since Oliveto’s beginnings. 1986.

Location

1550 Hopkins Street, Berkeley

Products

Produce and grocery.

Distribution

Local shoppers and restaurant chefs

Website

http://www.montereymarket.com/

February 8th, 2009|Monterey Market, Suppliers|0 Comments