Philosophy, not trends, guides this Brooklyn retailer.
These days, when people think of small food shops in Brooklyn, they may roll their eyes. They may picture fake moustache tattoos, horn-rimmed glasses, and trend-following ‘hipster’ types. Or they might think of paltry corporate imitations of what some aloof marketing executive thinks Millennials want. The Greene Grape in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, smashes that stereotype.
Step inside the grocery store – Greene Grape Provisions – and talk to anyone, whether they are customer, staff, management, ownership – from top to bottom and across the board these people are genuinely passionate about organic, sustainably grown, and local produce. Greene Grape, established in 2004, has a very simple mission: To provide goods and services made with integrity, skill, and pride. But whom does the store serve, and how does it do it so well? Produce Business spoke with General Manager Meg Christman, Produce Buyer Nailah Griffin, and Marketing Director Angela Gelso to figure it out.
Since first opening its doors, Greene Grape has grown quite a bit. Starting from its wine shop, expanding to include a full grocery store, then a coffee shop, and then a bakery, this family of four separate establishments has evolved to serve all aspects of the local community’s food needs. At the same time, all four locations occupy the same one-block radius in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. The evolution of Greene Grape, at every turn, has been made not only with this specific community in mind, but also has constrained itself geographically to make a true ‘one-stop shop.’
The 2,300 square-foot, horse shoe-shaped Greene Grape Provisions has its produce section as a centerpiece/’wow’ factor at the entrance. Every other section of the store – from cheese to fresh food to butcher counter – is influenced in some way by the produce offerings. (In fact, at the time of this article, the butcher counter had just sold out of a specialty sausage that absorbed locally foraged, overripe ramps to enhance its flavor.) The entrance boasts a variety of locally sourced produce. Edible flowers, cut fruit, salads, and spring onions occupy most shelves; seasonality is a huge factor in selecting featured items.
The folks at Greene Grape understand its clientele because they share the same philosophies about food, and are part of the local community themselves. In the summer months, 60-70 percent of the produce is locally sourced (meaning the farms are 200-300 miles away at most). That number drops during the winter, but generally Greene Grape makes a point to ensure its produce is locally or regionally produced. The boxed salads are a particular point of pride; they are sourced from Brooklyn about 90 percent of the time. (The farthest Greene Grape is willing to trek for salads is New Jersey.)
Local sources include Square Roots, Gotham Greens, both urban growers, and Brooklyn Grange – a rooftop farm overlooking the East River where greens are harvested and delivered to the store on the same day. In order to provide a complete grocery experience for its clientele, however, Greene Grape will go to larger vendors for items that are not available locally or regionally. In situations like that – for bananas, for instance – the store will do its best to make sure the products are Fair Trade items.
In terms of produce, Greene Grape does not have its own label; It is not co-branding or co-creating products like its wild wasabi arugula or local salad dressings. However, the store is an early adopter of new products, and works very closely with local farms to grow its produce section as the local farms grow.
One mark Greene Grape makes is with its labeling. When local residents come in, they have three main questions. Is this organic? Is it local? What farm is it from? These three questions are answered right away in hand-written labels for each and every piece of produce sold. Product origins can be as specific as a particular farm in Brooklyn, or if the particular item does not happen to be local, the region is indicated instead.
A Sliding Scale
In any neighborhood, especially in the New York area, pricing can be prohibitive, especially for organic produce. The team at Greene Grape knows this, so there is a constantly sliding scale balancing the needs of the business to operate with 70 employees, while securing the freshest local organic produce, and at the same time seeking price points that are accessible for the locals in Fort Greene. Produce Buyer Nailah Griffin works with General Manager Meg Christman and other store management to find that balance, and they’re not afraid to say ‘no’ when they think the price for certain items is not reasonable. The priority, they say, is simply to sell quality products that encourage people to cook.
“I don’t want people to be afraid of ugly produce. It’s something to be loved and used,” says Griffin.
The Greene Grape does not participate in traditional media marketing. Its opt-in email newsletter features special offers, events, and seasonal products across all Greene Grape stores – including Provisions, the wine shop, and the bakery. Its ‘Greener than Greene’ issue, for instance, talks about the overarching theme of sustainability and how Greene Grape strives to achieve that goal. Cutting out middlemen and informing customers of its process in a transparent way are methods of sticking to this philosophy of sustainability. The stores also have a significant local following on Instagram (@greenegrape).
But The Greene Grape goes beyond the pages of digital newsletters and social media. It takes its philosophy live – in food demonstrations in store and in local events. Sustainable bag drives, an eco-painting event at the Habana Earth Day Expo, and live tips and demonstrations showing the various uses of over-ripe produce are just a few examples of how this retailer not only talks the talk, but walks the walk of sustainability – something that is important to the store and its customers.
The Green Grape Provisions
767 Fulton St. Brooklyn, NY 11217
Mon. – Sat. 9am to 9pm