Grocer to bring Berkeley flavor to Alma Plaza | July 22, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 22, 2011

Grocer to bring Berkeley flavor to Alma Plaza

Miki's Farm Fresh Market plans to open at plaza in July 2012

by Gennady Sheyner

Fans of the popular Berkeley Bowl supermarket will have plenty to smile about when Palo Alto's newest grocery store opens its doors next year.

Michael Werness, a former manager at Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market (both in Berkeley), unveiled on Wednesday his plan to open a store at Alma Plaza in south Palo Alto. Werness, who goes by "Miki," said the new store will be much like Berkeley Bowl in that it will focus on organic and sustainable products and carry produce, fish, meat and all other supermarket staples.

The main difference will be the size. At 19,000 square feet, Miki's Farm Fresh Market, as the new store will be called, will be about half the size of Berkeley Bowl.

Werness said that while the store will feature a wide selection of premium organic items, it will focus on keeping the prices down for customers.

"Variety will be outstanding," Werness said. "And it'll be sustainable. People will know where everything comes from."

He said he plans to listen to the community and try to accommodate customers' needs by bringing in the types of products they suggest.

Werness, 64, has been involved in the food industry for nearly half a century. He began as a bag boy in a San Jose market when he was 15 years old. He worked in a wide range of grocery stores after that, including in South San Francisco, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, before ending up in Berkley Bowl, a renowned market that opened in 1977 in a former bowling alley and relocated into a larger location in 1999.

Werness had spent about 11 years at Berkeley Bowl, where he helped stock its main store upon its relocation. He then spent another nine years as manager of the Monterey Market, another Berkeley grocer that focuses on sustainable products.

Werness' decision to bring a store to Alma Plaza provides a huge lift for the controversial development, which was the subject of dozens of heated public meetings and intense community debate before the City Council approved it in January 2009. Once fully developed, the plaza will also include 37 homes and 15 below-market-rate apartments, a small park and a community room.

Miki's Farm Fresh Market will serve as the new plaza's centerpiece. In approving the project in 2009, the council specified that developer John McNellis must find a grocer before he can proceed with the residential portion of the development, which is located in the 3400 block of Alma Street. Construction on the 4.2-acre plaza began last month.

McNellis, who joined Werness and Mayor Sid Espinosa in announcing the new store Wednesday, said he was thrilled to reach an agreement with Werness. He called Werness a "creative genius" and described Miki's Farm Fresh Market as exactly the type of business the community has been clamoring for.

"Everyone was telling us they don't want a chain market and that they wanted an independent grocer," McNellis said.

Werness said the store will provide about 50 jobs, roughly half of which will be full time. It is scheduled to open in July 2012 and will occupy one of two retail buildings at Alma Plaza.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

"Everyone was telling us they don't want a chain market and that they wanted an independent grocer," McNellis said>

Who is this "everyone"? Nearly everyone I talk to want to see a store that sells regular brands, wide variety of staples and not niche or boutique brands in Palo Alto. We want an in store bakery, fresh meat and fish not prepackaged and a full service deli. Good wine and cheese selections as well as fresh produce that is not prepackaged. A good selection of imported goods to match the diversity in Palo Alto would be welcome also. Chains can do all this but I am not sure if an independent will be able to do so.

We want to be able to get all our grocery needs met in a one stop shopping environment without having to drive out of town.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I have to agree with the above poster. There certainly is a market for "boutique" grocers in Palo Alto - but don't Piazza's and Mollie Stone's fill that niche, just a few blocks from this place? A good, solid grocer for quality staples, clean, well-lit, modern layout, and low prices would hit the spot for me - kind of what we find whenever we go out of town for shopping. Why some of our leaders try to define us as a "boutique community" always mystifies me.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

*I give it 18 months.

Posted by PA Native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

There was a Lucky grocery store in Alma Plaza in the 80s.

For those who don't want to shop at this store, there will be a mega-Safeway one exit away at San Antonio Shopping Ctr.

Posted by nostalgic, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Ignoring the negativity for a moment, let me just say, yea! Berkeley Bowl in all of its incarnations is a great store with amazing produce and good prices. They have a low cost ethos (originally it was in a bowling alley) and it adds to the mix well and I'm thrilled to see it! Now we just need a cheese board/arizmendi (Web Link)

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Palo Alto has been trying to out do Berkeley for years now, and they have been successful at it.

First we got their bums

Next, their City Manager,

And now their "fad" boutique grocery.

Walter has got this one right, but I don't think it will take 18 months, unless they get subsidised by the City Council

Posted by Mark, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm

The folks who have posted negative comments above clearly have *never* been to Berkeley Bowl. The words "boutique", "fad" and "give it 18 months" do not belong in the same sentence as "Berkeley Bowl".

This store will be the most popular supermarket on the Peninsula. How can you argue with huge selection, high quality and low prices? I'm looking forward to it.

I'm looking forward to a Cheese Board too. At least we have the Milk Pail. We definitely need a Arizmendi pizza place though...

Posted by Clay, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Sounds great to me. I live close enough to walk and can't wait for it to open.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm

From distant (and a bit hazy, heh heh) memories of Berkeley Bowl back from mid-70's to 80's.....not just another niche store. A bit of Whole Foods, Saturday Farmer's Market, and Trader Joe's.

What would really be cool is to have that ranch in Half Moon Bay, the one on Tunitas Road (name escapes me) to move to the entrance to the dish.

It could be another far-sighted initiative between the city of Palo Alto and Stanford University.

And a big "Dogs Now Welcome" sign. Not welcome to take hiking with you, just welcome to be left under free supervision.

Hikers would be encouraged to leave their dogs in a supervised enclosure.

Posted by PA Resident/ Cal Alum '11, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm

I just graduated from Cal this year and moved back to Palo Alto. The one thing I miss the most is Berkeley Bowl! This isn't your typical "boutique" supermarket. Berkeley Bowl (and Monterey Market) is like a hybrid between Whole Foods and Safeway. You'll get fresh, quality produce for dirt cheap prices.

Having a Berkeley Bowl is like having a farmer's market open 7 days a week. You'll get a great selection of produce and pay bargain prices. Berkeley Bowl offers an in-store bakery, full-service deli, and a wonderful wine/cheese selection. If you've never heard about or visited a Berkeley Bowl you should check out their site:

If this new supermarket is like a smaller version of Berkeley Bowl it'll definitely succeed. Piazza's will definitely see a large drop in their customer base.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2011 at 6:46 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Maybe a year...

Posted by Within Easy Walking Distance, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 21, 2011 at 8:02 am

Wow. If it's anything like the Berkeley Bowl, that would be great. (Piazza's is nice, but it's a little too expensive for us most of the time.)

Posted by George K., a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:16 am

Well, let's not have it TOO much like the Berkeley Bowl. More parking spaces and less insanity if someone pops a grape into their mouth LOL.

Posted by happy, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:38 am

Most of those posting comments have clearly never been to Berkeley Bowl. It is absolutely not a boutique or high end. It has conventional name brand packaged goods along side some organic/nichey brands. It has a strong focus on carrying TONS of produce (organic and conventional)and fresh meat, fish, fresh deli items. It is all very reasonably priced. It was much more reasonably priced than the Safeway and Adronicos that were nearby.
Say what you will about Berkeley but Berkeley Bowl and Monterrey Market are grocery stores done right. I'm envious.

Posted by Tish, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

Very excited about this, can't wait to ride my bike there and get some good, inexpensive food :)

Posted by Good food lover, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

This is terrific news! A selection of food choices like Whole Foods but without the ridiculous prices and parking issues!! What a great choice for this part of town. Say what you will about Berkeley, they get food right!
If people need brand name products there are stores for that, but getting to shop at a place where someone actually cares about what is in the food you feed your family at a reasonable price is a luxury. I know I will shop there a lot.

Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:43 am

That grape thing could be a problem. there is no other weay to tell if grapes are sweet enough to eat without added sugar.

Posted by Mary C, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

Yeah! I loved the Berkeley Bowl, a mini Bowl -- a GREAT IDEA!

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

I've not been to Berkeley Bowl, however the general consensus above has fired me up. I'm excited by this news! Sounds like it might be even better than New Leaf that I'd hoped for.

Almost wishing a year of my life away!

Posted by Informed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

The original Monterey Market in Berkeley (On Hopkins) is a GREAT store. I have been shopping there for 25 years (since grad school). Michael Werness managed that store brilliantly - he supported local, small farmers and provided excellent food at a fair price. This is NOT a boutique/niche market - but rather a market as one finds in Europe - we are lucky to have this.

Posted by a Palo Alto resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

Astounding to me to read so many people judging and condemning something they know nothing about. What does that say about the people in Palo Alto? A sad commentary indeed.
I have only heard fantastic things about the Berkeley Bowl and am delighted to know that a similar store is coming to our area. Looking forward to discovering all they have to offer.

Posted by Palo Alto native, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

Finally! A store in walking distance. I grew up in this neighborhood and the only stores we had locally were All American and Lucky.

Posted by Sylvia, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2011 at 11:36 am

Great News! This will be a real asset to the community. I can't understand the early comments with nothing but negative input. Residents who used to shop at Lucky's will have a nearby store which, from what I read above, will not be terribly expensive.

Posted by me, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

Have any of you negative people seen Berkeley Bowl?? I for one HAVE...and I have to say the prices are great, the food fabulous and choices perfect!!!

I'm THRILLED to have them here... and if you're reading this, Mr. werner, please be sure to bring that divine Sierra cream cheese with chives!

May I suggest that only people who know what they are talking about join this conversation.

Posted by Dennis, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Go Bears! Oops - got carried away. Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Markets are great antecedents for the new Alma Plaza Miki's Farm Fresh Market. It will be interesting to follow its impact on pricing at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

Now, if Palo Alto can figure a way to import the Bears' Rugby talent . . . !

Posted by b, a resident of Duveneck School
on Jul 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm

For years, I've wished that there was something here that approximated Berkeley Bowl. Amazing variety, good folks, realistic prices for the items sold. I'm there.

Posted by Kristine, a resident of Ventura
on Jul 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I have lived close to Alma Plaza for most of the last 35years. While I will welcome having any kind of store & expect that it will be quality - I still will probably do most of my shopping in MV. I will be surprised if an independent store can compete with the prices of a TJ's or Safeway. I love Whole Foods, but I can't afford to shop there. I appreciate having Piazza's so close & the types of things they offer, but I can't afford to shop there. All these small grocery stores can offer what those who can afford it want & expect. Regular people (and there are still plenty of us in PA) have to go to MV to shop. It is not negative, it is a reality that we live with daily & those of us who live in south PA are fortunate to be close to MV's affordable shopping. I gave up expecting it would ever come to Alma Plaza years ago.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I would have preferred a branch of Mountain View's Japanese store.

Posted by Scott, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I heard of Berkeley Bowl a few times on radio, over the years, and decided I'd stop in some day, when I had the chance. Well, last weekend, we just happened to be in Berkeley, so we visited. OH MY MY! What a store! I was jealous of Berkeley, and wanted one here. What a surprise, something like it is revealed in the paper this week!
Here are a couple of examples of what we found there: Salmon -- Most stores carry just farmed, Atlantic salmon (a stupendously bad environmental choice,) or Atlantic plus one very expensive variety of wild salmon, but at Berkeley Bowl, I saw at least six varieties of wild salmon, and one at a very reasonable price (under $10 per lb.) All were labeled with where they came from and the quality looked excellent. Strawberries -- Not just a couple of different brands or sizes of strawberry, but eight different brands of strawberries in different size baskets. Some organic, some local, all labeled with point of origin. Ten kinds of peaches, Four kinds of apricots, exotic fruits I'd never seen before, you name it.
For those who are worry the prices will be high, I can reassure you, the prices at Berkeley Bowl were very good, and I'm awfully picky about prices. I don't often pay extra for organic, and won't buy if the prices aren't at least as good as the lowest prices I find at other stores. Berkeley Bowl prices were as good as those at the Milk Pail Market (my favorite produce store,) and the selection was BIGGER! (A LOT BIGGER!) It's produce heaven! If this new store can duplicate what Berkeley Bowl is doing, I'll be shopping nowhere else! Hooray! (Now we'll see if Mr. Werner can actually duplicate, in Palo Alto, what Berkeley Bowl is doing in Berkeley.)
And Walter, I also find that MV Japanese store (I'm pretty sure it's called "Najiya") a cool place. We shop there regularly for special items, but you have to admit it's definitely a "niche" type place. Not where you go for low prices on anything but Japanese specialties.
I'm really looking forward to July of next year when this place opens up!

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Given Palo Alto and surrounding area demographics, a Ranch 99 or Lion market might be viable.

If there were enough square footage in the store.

But there isn't.

Thanks Palo Alto.

Posted by pares, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2011 at 9:43 am

My son lives in Berkeley so we've visited Berkeley Bowl and it is a terrific store with very reasonable prices. We are thrilled that Alma will finally get a very good grocery store there. My only regret is that it will have to be smaller, but we will definitely be shopping there. They can't build it fast enough!

Posted by Paul, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Berkeley economics could not be more different than Palo Alto. The rents, wages, and utility prices are all higher. Stores like Milk Pail achieve their cost/quality by crowding customers into a bargain basement that many shoppers couldn't event survive let alone enjoy. TJs, Costco, etc. offer tremendous value based on huge volume. There is no 'free lunch'. This store likely got some big incentives by the developer and city to get early cause it won't last.

Posted by Helen, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I am so excited by this news! I make the trek to the Berkeley Bowl from Palo Alto every few months because it is such a great store. Berkeley's food offerings far surpass Palo Alto. I hope for a Cheeseboard Collective Pizza/Arizmendi Bakery next.

Mr. Werness, if you are reading these comments, I hope you will make a bulk food section similar to the one at Berkeley Bowl. The amazing bulk offerings are the primary reason I go to Berkeley Bowl. And the great produce, of course.

Posted by nodifference, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

We have only had those fixed set of food to choose from. Everywhere, everyplace is the same same old thing every time of the year,the only difference is the price of the food. I will not go there unless they offer for free.

Posted by JoAnn, a resident of Ventura
on Jul 22, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I shop at both Safeway (online) and Mollie Stone's. Some items at Mollie Stone's are cheaper than at Safeway. Don't assume this new place will have "boutique" prices because it will be a smaller store. I'm very much looking forward to another option. There may well be parking problems at busy times, though.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 23, 2011 at 12:30 am

"Astounding to me to read so many people judging and condemning something they know nothing about. What does that say about the people in Palo Alto? A sad commentary indeed."


"I can't understand the early comments with nothing but negative input."

It's BERKELEY BOWL. US Cal. Stanford. Big Produce Game.

Meanwhile the plan to move a Half Moon Bay farm/livestock/market ("I'll take Daisy there, slaughtered and boned please") and merge with The Dish anti-dog movement asserts it's historical antecedents...

Web Link

Posted by fish, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 23, 2011 at 10:20 am

I hope they could sell Japanese fish fugu in new place,I ate one,it was delicious.

Posted by Nando Lawrence, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

This is fantastic, why are so many people so NEG: and very rude! This store will be in a great location... Rude people say some prayers that you'll go to heaven!

Posted by fish, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

Go catch some fugu fish,eat it alive.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Negative comments are not the same as rude comments.

I am very wary about how this particular store will give me the shopping options I require for my weekly grocery needs. I would prefer to be able to find a full service supermarket with national brands I recognise rather than another specialist small store where I don't recognise what I want to buy. I would like to do the majority of grocery shopping in one store rather than have to shop at several or drive out of town to do so. I would rather my taxable grocery items (cleaning items, toiletries, etc.) be improving Palo Alto's budget rather than Mountain View or Menlo Park. Call me narrow minded if you like, but I would prefer a large supermarket somewhere in Palo Alto.

That may appear negative to some, realistic to others, but it is not rude.

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Well said, resident. I cannot agree with you more. Unfortunately, the way things work in Palo Alto, a large supermarket will never be in this city. If it isn't the need to protect JJ&F to satisfy College Terrace, then it is the immediate and constant complaints about "traffic issues" that inevitably pop up when something new is proposed in this city. Too bad, but I will do my shopping in our neighboring cities.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2011 at 5:38 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

svatoid, we finally agree on something.

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 27, 2011 at 8:12 am

Yes, Walter. I think when it comes to Palo Alto issues, we can agree on many things.

Posted by tiffany, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2011 at 7:13 am

I think those who are negative about this store need to seriously get out of their box. This store will blow your minds. Dont compare this store with any other stores. do your homework too. It said "Werness" has been in the industry since he was 15. i would think after being in that arena for that long, he would certainly know what the consumer wants. I am excited to see this store and how it will bring the community together.

Posted by Paul, a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jan 10, 2012 at 12:24 am

I have been to the Berkeley Bowl store in Berkeley. It is one of the best places to shop for food I have seen in the SF bay area.

Nowhere else have I seen such variety of high quality produce and other staple foods at such a reasonable price. It will be like having an indoor farmer's market year round. It will be far better fare than the ethylene ripened tasteless things one gets at the big chain stores. We are lucky to get them.

My only concern is that Alma is a main traffic artery for Palo Alto. There really are no other stores between downtown Palo Alto and Rengsdorff Av. break the flow of traffic. I can see that there will be some road rage when long haul commuters have to stop for locals going to market around rush hour.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

This is a wonderful development (pun intended).

I followed the fights between neighbors of the plaza and developers. There were many interesting proposals, but NIMBY reigns supreme in that neighborhood. I am very happy that a quality store like Berkeley Bowl is coming to south Palo Alto.

Thank you, Miki. I will be shopping there.

Posted by Mythily , a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jun 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Very excited for Berkeley Bowl! You will have our business.

Posted by cakegirl, a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I heard they're going to have a full service bakery!!! :-)

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