Straight from the farm: Lisa’s Central Market expands on concept of healthy food
Lisa’s Central Market is full of contradictions: It has the feeling of an old-fashioned grocer, while retaining a modern, urban vibe. There’s swing music from the ’30s and ’40s playing in the background, while exotic fruits and vegetables – with freshness that only today’s transportation can provide – are displayed on the shelves. The space is adorned with industrial-looking corrugated steel, while fresh flowers adorn the walls.
“For the most part, any retail shop is a stage,” said Marketing Coordinator Tony MacAllister. “We want to create an environment that is warm and make sure that we have the products to back it up. We want the entire production.”
In addition to rare finds, like eight-ball squash and purple baby carrots, the market also carries farm-direct, organic produce essential for everyday eating. Because they offer organic produce, MacAllister said, a common misconception people have about Lisa’s Central Market is that they think it is a hoity-toity new-age hippie joint.
“We’re not playing raggae music and selling patchouli,” MacAllister said. “We also don’t have the outrageous prices that go with the stigma of ‘organic.’ That’s not our message. The fact that our food is organic is just an added bonus.”
Furthermore, when the company started up in 1994, it was called Lisa’s Organics. Founders Lisa Boudreau and Mark Griffin have tried to overcome the stigma ever since they expanded from their home delivery and wholesale produce business to the growing grocery outlet they are today. They even have a second location in the works for Reno, which is slated to open in March.
“It’s a challenge,” Griffin said. “We started out as Lisa’s Organics, but organic consumers only represent 3 percent of the buying population. When we created our business strategy, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t putting up barriers to people who just want farm-fresh produce.”
Some of Lisa’s other offerings include limited amounts of sundries, grocery items and beer and wine, many of which bear the Lisa’s Central Market private label.
“We’re not selling large units,” he said. “That’s the advantage of a smaller market. Then we can purchase smaller quantities of more seasonal products, which tend to be five to 10 days fresher than large grocery chains.”
Lisa’s Central Market has been able to offer fresher produce, because Boudreau and Griffin have removed the middleman from the equation.
A fresh perspective
Usually, it’s the farmers themselves delivering produce to the market.
Boudreau, whose experience as a fruit commodity buyer and as the regional produce manager for Wild Oats Market, has helped her develop relationships with farmers throughout North America. She estimated that about 70 percent of their produce comes from California. However, in the winter months, a lot of the market’s produce is grown in Arizona or south of the border by certified-organic farmers.
“Many California organic produce growers have land down in Mexico, so they don’t have to stop growing during the cold months,” Boudreau said.
Griffin, who was a senior buyer at Trader Joe’s, said his experience at Lisa’s has had “all of the fun of Trader Joe’s, but with a smaller family atmosphere.”
However, the Lisa’s Central Market family is ready for growth. It’s new flagship store in Reno measures in at 4,400 square feet and will be equipped with a juice stand and a kitchen, where a chef will prepare ready-to-eat and prepared meals. The addition in Reno will more than triple the size of its staff, from 11 to nearly 40 employees.
“We have been inundated with resumes for our store in Reno,” Griffin said. “We’ve got people applying with anywhere from five to 55 years of experience in the business. I think they see a real opportunity to get out of the commercialized and unionized grocery chains and into a tighter knit group of people.”
So, with a growing staff and more new stores on the horizon (Griffin is currently involved in site selection for the greater Sacramento area), how do Boudreau and Griffin plan on keeping the familial atmosphere?
“We work with the ‘fish philosophy,'” Griffin said, referring to the work ethic of Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle. “It’s all a mentality of having more fun at work.”
So, at Lisa’s Central Market in Truckee, there’s another paradox, the employees seem to work hard, while thriving under that philosophy.
Lisa’s Central Market is located at 10418 Donner Pass Road, at the roundabout. It’s open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The new store will be located in the Magnolia Village at 6990 McCarren Blvd in Reno. Contact them at 582-2280.