Brahm Ahmadi's quest to bring fresh food to West Oakland started in 2002, when he co-founded a nonprofit called People's Grocery. The nonprofit's truck made scheduled stops around the neighborhood four days a week, making produce and other necessities available to the community.
Still, Ahmadi knew it was a temporary fix for what West Oakland really needed: a full-service grocery store, complete with produce, dairy, and a meat and seafood counter. According to Ahmadi, West Oakland hasn't had a full-service grocery store since the 1970s. That means that, aside from the smaller grocery store Mandela Foods Cooperative, residents would have to either leave the neighborhood to shop, or rely on liquor stores for foods that are typically processed and overpriced. So in 2012, Ahmadi began working toward opening a neighborhood full-service grocery store — now known as Community Foods Market — which he expects will open on or around May 15.
Its aim is to offer affordable fresh food to promote healthier eating. There'll be some higher-priced local and organic foods alongside national brands, as well as some value-priced private label options. There'll also be a "Wall of Value," a warehouse-style area where the store will purchase bulk quantities of products and sell them directly from the pallets.
Ahmadi recognizes that being short on time is one of the biggest barriers to eating healthy and wants to offer solutions. At the meal station area, customers can pick up handouts featuring a recipe of the day, along with nutrition information. The ingredients for preparing the recipe will be at the meal station.
Customers can also dine in or pick up ready-to-eat meals at the Front Porch Cafe. The cafe will serve coffee, smoothies, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a la carte options. The aim is to have affordable options in every section of the menu and to offer a range of selections that reflects the diversity of the neighborhood.
The Front Porch Cafe will also serve as a neighborhood gathering space. The area can be used for live music, art exhibitions, movie screenings, and poetry readings.
"It's something we really heard from the neighborhood — that folks want experiences, and they want to do it in their own neighborhood without having to leave, and they're tired of that," Ahmadi said. "That's just not fair, and it's a loss to the economy of the local community."
In keeping with its mission of promoting neighborhood health, the store will partner with community health services to provide information and services on site. It's planning to host hypertension screenings with LifeLong Medical Care, food education workshops with 18 Reasons, and offer CalFresh outreach through the Alameda County Food Bank.
Traditional investors weren't interested in a store like Community Foods Market. So Ahmadi sold $2 million in shares to community members and California residents. For those investors, it was an opportunity to invest in a local, community-oriented business.
A grand opening block party will take place on June 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with live music, vendors, arts and crafts, and a resource fair.
"There's so many other parts of Oakland that are getting developed and things are happening, but not really here," Ahmadi said. "And this community deserves it just as much as those."
Community Foods Market, 3105 San Pablo Ave., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; cafe hours 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. For more information, visit CommunityFoodsMarket.com.