Sunday, February 7, 2010

Favorite Things in Hyde Park: Open Produce

It's been a while since I've done a favorite things post, so here goes.... (As you guys may have noticed, I'm a pretty hardcore foodie, so forgive me if my favorites tend to all be food centric...)

Today's featured spot is Open Produce (1635 E. 56th), an itty-bitty, but amazingly well-stocked, grocer selling fresh produce, prepared foods, and kitchen staples in east Hyde Park. While western and central Hyde Park are already well served by Treasure Island and Hyde Park Produce (which I've featured here as well), Open Produce is the only grocer east of the train tracks and is unique in that it is open super late (until about midnight).

If you weren't looking for it, the shop would be easy to miss if not for the carts of fresh colorful fruit that are often parked out front. The storefront is about the size of a walk-in closet, but it is full of copious amounts of both standard and exotic fresh produce (think heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, leeks, poblano peppers, you name it). In addition to milk, eggs, and butter, they carry hard-to-find ethnic and vegan staples and ready-made curries, soups, and European snack foods (I especially love the dutch "stroop waffles"!). On top of that, they stock prepared foods from from local restaurants and even fruits and veggies from customers' home gardens.

The store has an interesting history and philosophy, which was featured recently on Gaper's Block. As the article highlights, the shop was opened by two U of C grads who set out to apply their economics backgrounds to running an ethical, transparent, and socially conscious business, hence the name Open Produce. One of the owners, Steven Lucy explains in the article:
"I get a lot of positive feedback from people in the community. I wish there were more small stores, like in Pilsen, on Devon, or in New York City. That's the kind of neighborhood I want to live in, so I've made my neighborhood like it.The way to make positive social change is through entrepreneurship. A lot of people in college want to help out [and go abroad to do so], and that's great. I want to fix where I live. It's what I know, and I have the right to muck around in it. I'd rather make practical changes in a place where I live instead of make some far reaching effort to fix something else."
In Chicago, we have all gotten used to shopping at big chain grocery stores and stocking up on weeks' worth of food that will likely sit in a drawer in our fridge for a long time before we use it. Grocery shopping is something we often have to plan in advance and allot a big chunk of time for. Open Produce, though, is more the kind of spot where you can stop in quickly after work, grab whatever produce looks fresh, perhaps chat with the staff, and then throw together a fresh healthy meal for a few bucks. In my opinion, this is a more affordable, healthier, and efficient way to shop and eat. Stores like this were the norm 50 years ago and still exist in New York and abroad, but they are few and far between in Chicago. Not a lot of neighborhoods in the city have anything like Open Produce, and I think it's pretty cool that we do.

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