Where to shop for the best prices on fruit & vegetables in New West

Joanne Ho from Nature Village Farms scoops up some blueberries for a customer at the Royal City Farmers Market. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Joanne Ho from Nature Village Farms scoops up some blueberries for a customer at the Royal City Farmers Market. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

We are a fruit- and veggie-loving family, but when we load up on produce, I try not to do it at the big box grocery stores around here. The average price of produce is just too high at Safeway, Save-On, Buy Low and the like. I read the flyers for the loss leaders and in-season specials, but when I really need to stock up on veg I try to go to one of the local specialty produce stores for better selection, price and quality. Continue reading “Where to shop for the best prices on fruit & vegetables in New West”

Voting underway for New West’s inaugural ONE Prize

River Market's ONE Prize
River Market's ONE Prize will give three winners a total of $5,000 to fund community initiatives in New West.

Three community-building ideas in New Westminster will get a boost from Donald’s Market and River Market, winning cash and publicity from the inaugural ONE Prize. Funded through a customer appreciation program that allocates 1% of member sales to community projects, five shortlisted projects will vie for votes in hopes of winning a portion of the $5,000 in this year’s pot.

This year’s diverse ideas include initiatives related to food, art, social media, volunteering and entrepreneurship.

The finalists this year are:

  • ARTISTS IN THE MARKET – Local artists of diverse practices showcase the fruits of their labour at River Market for everyone to enjoy!
  • NEW WE.ST CAREFULLY CURATED – Carefully curated local feeds and searches mixed with crowd sourced events, links, pictures, and conversation.
  • POPLUCK – A series of pop up dinners in open-air public spaces across the city that combine an element of surprise with a love of well-prepared, fresh, and local food.
  • SOCIAL GENERATION AWARD – What happens when we encourage young people to let their imagination go and give them seed money to get it going?
  • THANKSGIVING IN JULY – Seniors Services Society says “Thanks” to their volunteers for all that they give with a special Thanksgiving luncheon in July.

The winners will be chosen by ONE Members via online voting. The top three vote-getters will win funding for their idea, $3,000 for the most popular project and $1,000 each for the two runners-up.

If you’re not a member of the ONE Program, you can sign up at Donald’s Market.

Emilio’s Deli a friendly, family-run ‘be yourself’ kind of deli

Tony Sr. is proud that his son Niko wants to help serve the public and Niko is amazed at all the nice people on the Waterfront in New Westminster. Photo: Ken Wilkinson
Tony Sr. is proud that his son Niko wants to help serve the public and Niko is amazed at all the nice people on the Waterfront in New Westminster. Photo: Ken Wilkinson

With summer beginning, families are starting to enjoy Downtown New Westminster and the Waterfront and exploring the River Market. A very friendly family at Emilio’s Deli is really making people smile, reintroducing them to the Market and starting to introduce themselves. People smell the fresh variety of cheeses and meats, but the also see and hear the friendly father and his sons getting to know people.

Tony Sr. is a very warm-hearted man with a wide range of interesting experiences in his life. He’s watched and learned from his family through his entire life about delis and cooking and has always enjoyed it. Tony “loves the public” and wanted to find a way to show and enjoy what he’s learned and create what he calls a “family-oriented, be yourself kind of deli” for people to enjoy and for him to enjoy as well. With that great spirit he’s worked together with Donald’s and the River Market to create Emilio’s Deli (named after Tony Sr.’s father Emilio), so the legacy of his father could live on through Tony and his sons.

Tony Sr., along with his sons Niko and Tony Jr. are building a fresh and diverse variety of meats and cheeses for the public to enjoy. The whole family wants people to tell them what they enjoy and they are having fun together working towards their goal. One thing that Tony Sr. knew people liked were “nice, fresh and hefty sandwiches made individually for people.” To make them best, Tony hasn’t got a list of sandwiches. He meets people and finds out directly from each person individually and makes them what they want for a great price.

As well as Tony Sr., Tony Jr. and Niko are a key part of Emilio’s Deli. Niko is a young man learning quickly and enjoys working with his dad. Niko loves the Waterfront in New Westminster because he is “amazed at the good people around here – everyone is so nice.” People are very special to Niko, so working with his Dad and meeting all the nice people is making him excited. He has many ideas about how to help more people enjoy Emilio’s Deli and so Niko and Tony Jr. work constantly with their Dad to learn about the meats and cheeses and find out what people want. Along with Tony and the boys, Tony Sr.’s girlfriend Roberta also likes to help out when she can to enjoy people.

The boys help people understand and enjoy the variety of flavors Emilio’s offer and they also are learning about the unique combinations of meats and cheeses that different people enjoy. Together the whole family wants people to come down to Emilio’s to meet them and enjoy the food. The family is smiling because “people are starting to phone for party trays,” “sandwich platters are on the way” and want to thank all the people for their great support. “Specials are on the way!” according to the whole family.

Emilio’s Deli is easy to find. They’re just inside the door of Donald’s Market. They want to work together to help and enjoy all the new vendors starting up now or coming soon to the River Market. As Tony Sr. puts it, he “enjoys everyone and enjoys watching them enjoy the great stuff he provides at the deli” and as Niko says, he wants people to “Give us a chance and you be the Judge.” Emilio’s Deli is a yummy and friendly place for people to enjoy the waterfront and explore the many new and tasty combinations of meats, cheeses and sandwiches. Tony and his family help the personality of the waterfront emerge in a new way, while helping the great family spirit of New Westminster live on as it has for 150 years.

The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!

The grand opening of Donald's Market drew a big crowd. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
The grand opening of Donald's Market drew a big crowd. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Today was the big reveal of Donald’s Market at River Market. Wow, can you believe that it was back in April that we finally learned who the New West River Market grocer tenant was? “Who would it be?” we all asked after months of guessing and deduction and mercelessly prodding River Market owener, Mark Shieh. But he wouldn’t say. Like Chuck Norris being interrogated by ex-soviet uranium smugglers, he vowed never to reveal the secret…. until finally, on March 31, he did.

And now, on the first day of snow at the beginning of the great winter of 2010/2011, more than half way through November, we can all see what Mark and his team from River Market have been building. I had my preconceptions: It would be small. It would be overpriced. Everything would be a little too crunchy, a little too righteous – a little too trendy for me and the gal I go with.

Donald's produce is great quality, good prices and reasonable selection. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Donald's produce is great quality, good prices and reasonable selection. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

But I was happily surprised! Sure there is a bit more space for Seventh Generation detergents and Happy Planet and Enviro Kidz and Nature’s Path, but they are part of the mix along side specialty foods, imported brands and food products from small producers and cottage industries. This was what I found to be the most compelling about this store: it has manages to differentiate itself from other options in town while not alienating the majority of potential shoppers with hard-to-sell product choices.

Other pluses: the prices are pretty good. Produce was of great quality and reasonable selection, at prices better than most New Westminsterites are used to (especially those reliant on the IGA). The quality was so good that even the small amount of fruit that we did buy (49c bannanas BTW) tasted noticeably better than the average. Prices through the whole store were in line with Safeway or Save-On-Foods – and better in some cases, as you would expect for a Grand Opening Sale. The Store was crowded and a little hard to move in but the staff were keen and helpful and obviously proud of their opening. Lots of Island Farms and Olympic Dairy products, Saltspring and Latin Organics brand coffee, bulk foods etc.

Another local blogger, Sheila Keenan, had a similar impression:

I’m not going to lie. I had my doubts, especially given that the renovations dragged on for so long and at least one of the tenant choices seemed goofy. When I heard the Vancouver Circus School was a tenant I was skeptical. What the heck is a circus school doing in a market? After attending the grand opening today, I found out what it’s doing there: being awesome. After all, which grocery store would you rather go to: normal grocery store with just groceries or grocery store where there’s a guy doing a handstand all the way down the escalator and a girl juggling all the way up? I pick the grocery store with the circus school. (In addition to classes, they are also going to offer birthday party packages.) I actually got a little teary-eyed on the drive home, thinking to myself that this marvelous place is in New Westminster.

I will be cautious in my criticism, as I am sure Donald’s and the River Market have a lot of work left to do, but there were some points I wanted to raise:

1)It is a tightly packed space. Sure it was crowded today, but even with normal foot traffic, I cannot see how anyone in a wheelchair, scooter or large stroller could navigate without a series of blushful apologies. The arrangement of cashiers doesnt help, but it is plain that Donald’s is making the most use of the space available.

Opening-day shoppers at Donald's also got to tour the rest of the River Market space (though much of it is still under construction). Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Opening-day shoppers at Donald's also got to tour the rest of the River Market space (though much of it is still under construction). Photo: Briana Tomkinson

2) Parking. It is the rare supermarket that requires a 200-meter walk to a paid parking lot. Donald’s will cater to a core clientele of condo-dwellers from the Quay and Downtown New West buying 2-3 bags of groceries, and it will feature a bicycle delivery service. But those of us in Queens Park and the West End who appreciate the curated inventory Donald’s offers will begrudge paying a $2.50 parking bill for the honour of lugging fancy groceries to the other side of the Fraser River Discovery Centre. I suggest a golf cart with a trolley behind it, like a hayride but no, um, hay. “Aaaaawll Abooord! River Market to Riverside Park by way of parking kiosk A and B!”

3) Similarly, the way into the rest of the market from Donald’s seems restrictive; like a too-narrow hallway. Do they need that wall there? For a packed space, they should use all of the free air space they can get.

That is about it! I think Donald’s will help to disperse the malaise that has settled in the minds of locals since the Quay Market closed. The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!

For more photos of the new Donald’s Market at River Market, please see the album on our Facebook Page.

Small footprint, quality food at Donald’s Market

By now we’ve all heard the big news; Donald’s Market is coming to the River Market at the Quay. However if you’re like me (and everyone else I’ve spoken to except one person), your first reaction was, “What’s Donald’s Market?”

A selection of food from Donald's Market. Photo: Matthew Laird.
A selection of food from Donald's Market. Photo: Matthew Laird.

I had to take a field trip to answer this question. So over the past two weekends I jumped on the Skytrain, shopping bags in hand, to visit each of the Donald’s locations. First up, Commercial & 8th Avenue.

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the vast selection of beautiful produce. For a market its size they were very well-stocked. Typically there’s an inverse relationship between price and quality for produce, but a few quick spot checks revealed very reasonable prices. I was particularly impressed by the wide selection, having some non-traditional items for North American grocers such as enoki mushrooms and garlic stems (items I typically have to head toT&T for).

I began wandering the store exploring what other wonders it held. It’s a small store, packing a lot in to a small footprint. Knowing the size of the River Market building and making a guess about how much Donald’s will take up, this is a good sign that this merchant is willing to maximize space usage. Too often, small store size means small selection. Not here. Every inch of space was used; staff were continually wandering around restocking shelves.

Going down any aisle typically involved a polite “excuse me,” while sucking in your gut to squeeze past (some of us more than others these days. I’ll definitely take advantage of the opportunity to walk home with my groceries). But again, here I noticed the difference from your typical Safeway or Save-On-Foods: a lot of specialty items and organics.

The Asian food aisle was like a T&T highlights mini-store – almost everything I use when cooking the other half’s cuisine. The Italian section … I’ve never seen such a large selection of whole grain pasta. It was difficult to spot one that wasn’t either whole grain, organic or both. But this didn’t mean huge mark-ups either. Turning around to the opposite side of this aisle, there was an amazing selection of sauces, pestos, antipastos – everything you’d need for an authentic Italian meal. I know there’s a balance between 100 mile and supporting authentic, non-industrial producers of products that may not be made locally, but I won’t get in to that discussion at this point.

The next weekend I went to visit their other store on Hastings at Nanaimo. This store is about twice the size, giving a little more space in the aisles and a lot more shelf space. I’m sure the security guard was wondering why this guy was slowly walking up and down every aisle, examining every product. As someone who’d have become a chef in another life, I was like a kid in a candy store.

The first thing I noticed was the hot food counter. I remember Mark Shieh from the River Market said Donald’s customizes its stores for the local neighbourhood. The Commercial Drive store had more of an Italian feel, but this store with its hot Chinese food, sticky buns, and such counter had more of an Asian feel. Makes me wonder what localization the New Westminster store will have.

This store was also busy! That doesn’t mean crowded, but like the Commercial Drive store it was unquestionably popular with the neighbourhood. This didn’t slow the checkout lines, however. Both stores had enough staff at the checkout, typically with line-ups no more than one customer long. A nice change! I also noticed a lot of people carrying bike helmets, which I hope we’ll see at the River Market store.

But the thing that made me squeal for joy the loudest was the fact that Donald’s carries Island Farms products. Don’t ask me why, but I just find Island Farms milk tastes better. I’ll quote my father on how he describes milk from the other main regional dairy (which I shall not name), “Sometimes it tastes like they forgot to rinse the cleaner out of the tank.”

I’m not going to give a 100% positive review. Despite all this good, there was one item glaringly missing: a butcher. There was packaged meat, as you’d expect from any grocery store, but there wasn’t a butcher or fish counter with products such as thick-sliced  bacon or fresh-carved fish fillets. However, having heard Mark’s vision for the River Market, I’m sure this is an item that will be addressed either through Donald’s or through separate butcher and fish vendors setting up shop in the market. I need to find a closer source of the pork belly for my Chongqing recipe that goes along with the garlic stems mentioned before!

I was already excited about getting our market back, but after seeing for myself this shop which my one witness had raved about, I’m even more excited! Donald’s will be a fantastic addition to the Quayside and Downtown neighbourhoods.

River Market grocer, ONE program revealed

River Market just sent out the following information, via its e-newsletter. I’m copying the text here, for our readers who are not subscribed:

Dear Friends and Neighbours,

On behalf of the crew at River Market, we are extremely excited to announce that Donald’s Market will be our anchor grocer. Building on the success of its two stores in Vancouver, Donald’s Market will be creating a 7,600 square feet flagship store to serve New Westminster at River Market!

Our Food 360 vision is to create a destination that celebrates the full circle of food in a local, playful, passionate, and sustainable way. You can look forward to: growing food on site with edible gardens; an independent grocery store focusing on local and organic produce; specialty food vendors and restaurants; cooking events and food festivals; and a green initiative to compost food waste. Donald’s Market is an important partner in realizing this vision.

Thank you for all your support and feedback during our campaign for anchor grocer. We heard many of you say that, “having a grocer that has organic and fresh natural foods at reasonable prices in the area would be so beneficial to this community” and “I’m looking for great products that I can’t get at the big chain stores“. Throughout the tenant selection process, we took great care in discussing shared values and neighborhood fit. We believe Donald’s Market is fantastic. We love Donald’s approach:

1. QUALITY. Donald’s produce buyers personally select the fruits and vegetables purchased for the store every morning. They source sustainable ingredients from as close to home as possible. The result is consistent high-quality produce.

2. AFFORDABLE. Donald’s runs a tight ship. Rather than gimmicky promotions, they offer consistent low prices everyday.

3. RESPONSIVE. Donald’s is nimble and independent. Tell them if you have a favorite or hard-to-find item, they will do their best to bring it into the store. No approval from a far way corporate office is needed. Donald’s has been consistently voted one of the Best Independent Grocer in Georgia Straight.

4. LOCAL. In addition to its commitment to supporting local vendors and community groups, Donald’s ownership, heart and mind, is local. Donald’s local owners and managers are invested here and will reinvest in our city.

Reinvesting in our community is not just a pie-in-the-sky plan. Today, Donald’s Market and River Market are happy to announce the ONE New West program and the ONE Piggy Bank Fund.

WHAT IS ONE?
It’s a customer appreciation program offered to loyal customers of Donald’s Market and River Market. The first 1000 customers to sign up will become its founding members.

WHAT IS ONE PIGGY BANK FUND?
As a member of ONE, every time you shop at Donald’s Market, you will be investing in New Westminster. Donald’s Market will contribute 1% of every dollar you spend to the ONE Piggy Bank Fund. Every year, you will nominate and vote on which New Westminster community groups and projects receive funding from this Piggy Bank.

And there’s more! Every year, Donald’s Market will also give 1% of every dollar you spend back to you. You, of course, have the option of directing your refund back into the Piggy Bank. With ONE, you get 1% and the community gets 1%. We applaud Donald’s Market for establishing this fund with us. In the coming months, we will also encourage other River Market tenants to participate. And with your support, we hope to expand this program to include additional businesses in New West.

Now let’s welcome Donald’s Market to New West. And let’s get started with ONE at http://bit.ly/oneinvite

Stay hungry and curious,

Mark, Mia, Julie, Blazenka, Leslie, and the River Market Crew.