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Miki approved as new College Terrace grocer

Original post made on Dec 16, 2014

Miki Werness, whose well acclaimed but financially troubled grocery store fizzled in Alma Village last year, will get another shot at success in College Terrace after the City Council agreed early Tuesday morning to approve him as the new grocer at the former site of the beloved JJ&F Market.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 12:50 AM

Comments (47)

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2014 at 7:34 am

Yet another Planned Community disaster. The second coming of Miki's is going to last about as long as the first one.

Posted by irony
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2014 at 7:49 am

" Many residents, including council members, blamed the failure of Miki's Farm Fresh Market in large part to the design of Alma Village, where the grocery store faced the interior parking lot and effectively turned its back to Alma Street. "
Of course, the pro-miki residents and the council members will not blame Miki for his failure at alma plaza--they just picked him to run another mini-grocery store in Palo Alto. Not sure why the council and see Miki as god's gift to the grocery business. Lydia Kuo summed it up quite well (failed quickly and catastrophically)
The configuration of the alma plaza store had nothing to do with it's failure-- that is just a nice excuse put forth by some, with the belief that if you say it often enough it becomes true.
Miki failed because it was overpriced, did not have enough of the staples that people need and was way to small.
Palo Alto only wants small, mini-grocery stores. That is why many people fo to Menlo Park and MV for shopping.
Given the number of new stores in PA, I doubt the new mikis will succeed either. But the city has to appease the citizens of College Terrace. Al least Donna SUmma and Lydia Kuo show some common sense in this matter.

All this ironic given the fact that we could have had a nice shopping center in Alma Plaza instead of what is their now. However certain neighbors and piazzas opposed a larger market their. Piazzas at the time claimed that 20K square feet was enough. Now piazzas is bigger than that size and they do not see a problem in that. That is why I do not shop at Piazzas any longer.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2014 at 7:49 am

This sounds more than a little fishy to me.

Either nobody with experience wanted to do it, or something more underhand occurred here. Either way, it is worrying to me and sounds suspicious. (I did like Mikis and used it sometimes).

Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:11 am

Another PC cave-in. Score one for Smailey, another zilch for Palo Alto. Thanks for the good vote, Holman.

Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:18 am

>> "This is Silicon Valley," Berman said. "People fail in things they try."
This City Council is living proof of this self-fulfilling axiom. With Molly Stone's so close, and no competent applications to run a grocery store here, maybe it's time to <gasp!> build housing or something else here. Moving the College Terrace and Ventura vehicle dwellers off the street would be far more welcome than more El Camino blight.

Posted by Lame Ducks
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:24 am

It seems like the city council, especially the lame ducks, were happy to push through things that are bad for palo alto as one last move before they exit.

The newly elected council should take their seats immediately after the election is final, rather than having the lame ducks make bad decisions. I think Shepherd may just be bitter about her stunning defeat. What a mess they are leaving for the next council.

No one wants to argue with Shepherd so things go through.

Posted by Sunrise4765
a resident of Addison School
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

Sunrise4765 is a registered user.

Another reason for them failing on Alma is due to the prices. Way to high for the quality they sold. They also weren't very friendly.

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:42 am

I loved Miki's Market and miss it sorely (like a lover gone too soon), and am encouraged by the possibility here.

If Miki's deli and bakery are up to the quality he provided on Alma, I think it will be very, very successful in such close proximity to Stanford University (he might want to arrange delivery on campus).

I still daydream of those wonderful attributes...oh, and the cheese section! Heavenly.

I don't think the failure on Alma was totally due to the appalling design flaws (soon to be ours again when the develop puts another b*** ugly building on University Ave.), however I'd say much of it is due to that.

Miki is one of the nicest people in business and one I really hope finds success with this venture for his sake and that of Palo Alto as well.

I'll definitely make time to make my way to the new market for my favorite features when the doors open.

Posted by goog news
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

This is very encouraging news indeed. I look forward to shopping at the new Miki's.

Posted by neighbor 99
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:03 am

Check out the Daily Post today. The city is now in the business of SELLING Transferable Development Rights and giving away cash to support a history museum nobody wants. I'm no residentialist but c'mon, how can the city make it near impossible to get projects approved and then turn around and profit from allowing larger buildings? Hilarious!

Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:12 am

I'm happy to see Miki get the green light for the market. I really liked his market on Alma, but it was a bit out of my way, so I only went about a half dozen times before it closed. The quality was excellent, and it was the cleanest, intelligently shelved market I've ever been in.

Posted by Jessie
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:15 am


I am so excited to have the opportunity to shop at Miki's new grocery store! Does this mean we never have to see those Smailey's again? Those guys are shady!

I watched the city council meeting, and read all submissions for the past few months. The new developer, Brian Spiers, did an amazing job with his document submission to the city and his presentation with Miki was very compelling.

Hopefully they can start building soon!

Posted by A neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:16 am

I think Miki's failed because of many reasons. The location is one reason. But Miki also misunderstood how Palo Altans shop. For example I remember him selling 6 different varieties of dates. But most of his breads had preservatives. A bit odd.
Palo Alto is not Berkely. Berkeley Bowl does sell an amazing variety of all kinds of fruits and veggies and they have the buyers. We don't seem to.
Also, the Alma Plaza location wasn't suited for the super high end cheese bar or the huge butcher/meat section. The buyers just weren't there.
If Miki's starts small, without all the glitzy bakery or cheese bar, etc. and tries to do what the old JJ&F did I would guess that he will do ok.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:51 am

So .. the clock starts for the Bankruptcy of MIKI's #II. It's only a matter of time.

Having a City Council involved in picking the management of local businesses is a disaster-and should be a issue in the next Council election.

The idea of folding the City into any of the decisions for businesses locating in projects that are effectively redevelopment should be outlawed. Wonder if any of the pro-Residentialists could get behind another ballot initiative to restrict the City from involving itself where it dosen't belong?

Posted by PA Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:53 am

Approving the massive College Terrace project was the parting "shot" to the citizens of Palo Alto. This outgoing city council is a bitter bunch and wanted to screw Palo Altans one last time. Good riddance to Mayor Sheppard.
Thank you, Karen Holman, for voting "no." It is easy to see why Karen was the top vote getter in the past election. She truly represents the people of PA.

Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:54 am

I loved JJ&F, having shopped there since the late '50s, when it was a fresh contrast to the new "super"markets beginning to invade the area. But as the supermarkets grew, JJ&F's patronage declined, even among its staunchest supporters in the nearby neighborhoods. They complained about its demise, but how many of them did their routine grocery shopping there? People would go to Safeway for six bags, then to JJ&F for one... JJ&F ultimately died for a number of reasons, not least of which was the big store competition.

Miki's grocery has the same concept as Mollie Stone's, mixing organic and regular items. I shopped it once in Alma Village, but didn't feel it was different enough from Mollie Stone's for me to make a special trip there. It's important to me to keep my local stores alive in order to have the convenience of shopping nearby, so I regularly shop at both Mollie Stone's and Country Sun.

My question to the council would be-- WHY? Why is a grocery part of the requirement for this development, when we already have so many options in Palo Alto, including other stores with the same concept? Why bring in a store that will directly compete with the two existing stores on California Avenue? It's not like we NEED another grocery. And if the beloved JJ&F, that might have had claim to customer loyalty, couldn't sustain business at that location in spite of excellent quality and service, why does the council imagine that ANY grocery coming in will suddenly generate a significant customer base? Even Miki's track record of success failed him in Alma VIllage-- he's not immune.

Seems like a plan destined to fail-- either Miki's new grocery will seriously undermine the business of Country Sun and Mollie Stone's, or it will fail to thrive because people prefer to shop where they always have...

Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2014 at 12:10 pm

The City was working within the constraints of the PC, which was certainly necessary. Given those constraints, the Spiers proposal was nearly optimal.

Mr. Spiers and his team did a stunning job of turning this thing around. The Smailey's (and their attorneys) took an adversarial and litigious approach.

I wish the new market well. Since I work in the neighborhood, I will give it more than a chance of success.

Posted by grandmakk
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I loved Miki's food, but not the location.

I lived in College Terrace and loved JJ&F when it was the original, complete with strawberries from heaven, and Peggy from who-knows-where.

Now I wish Miki the best of luck. I'll be first in line when they open.

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Another local paper reported that the bankruptcy documents showed that Miki was not actually McNellis' tenant as much as McNellis fronted Miki $500,000 to run the grocery, making them more like partners.

Jim Baer, a consultant to Alma Village, told me this was not true, but I think since the Weekly continues to cover this story, or these stories, they might want to check on it, review the same document.

Is that sausage on the grill or another Grand Jury report I smell?

And I agree with the poster above who thinks also of the stinky History Museum story -- we are allowing a particular developer an additional $10 M in TDR somehow related to deal per se -- in the same breath here. WTF?

Posted by Blahblow
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2014 at 1:57 pm

The weekly should look into something? As in INVESTIGATE?!?! C'mon, its all about the chamber of commerce feel good stories with these small papers in MV and PA. The only story they are going to cover is "There's a new grocery store! Yeah! Come check it out!"

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm

The PC should never have been granted, but it was and this Council clearly wasn't the one to take the bold step of fixing a past wrong. They may even have made a bad thing worse; time will tell on that. They sure as heck didn't demand much in the way of due diligence from Staff. What is up with that??

Now is the time to lay the foundation to get this grocery right. Miki should sit down with the architect and make certain the store is well designed from the perspective of a grocer. If John Garcia weren't a future competitor of Miki's I'd suggest that Brian Spiers spend some R&D dollars and pay the Garcias to sit down with Miki to discuss what worked and what didn't, but I think Miki is going to have to figure this out on his own. I think the key to JJ&F's popularity was their approach to customer service. That store was like the "Cheers" of grocery stores - everyone knew your name - and not b/c they were reading it from a receipt! The Garcias were part of the fabric of College Terrace for decades and I don't envy anyone trying to prove themselves comparable to that.

Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Since when does a city council have to approve a business? I thought in America you could open a business at will as long as it meets zoning requirements. I couldn't imagine a food store would require some type of zoning exception?

Posted by Non-Bitter Neighbor
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Wow, all of these bitter neighbors. Get over it, your fight against this new building is over. Go focus on the TDR's, or the history museum next. HA!

Posted by Doria
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm

[Post removed due to poster impersonating a resident]

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2014 at 3:32 pm

When I lived in Melbourne, Vic located in Australia I would ferequent a little market that had rear parking. This little market had a following that even with the crazy parking people would shop there regardless. This market was in a suburb.

So what we have here is people won't freqent their favorite small business if they don't a front parking lot with a front door entance. I found some of the best small stores in alleys, rear of buildings, located in 2nd floor units. It is funny we will walk to keep healthy but we won't walk to keep our favorite merchants in business.

Posted by shallowalto
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I am very disappointed with the actions of my city and my neighborhood. I was very glad to hear that Mr. Chavez had come forward because he has several store across Atherton, Redwood City and more. He is a proven success and he sells good food. [Portion removed.] It is a shame that Chavez was rejected since he is clearly has a much better track record than Miki Werness.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I would just like to give a shout out to Doria. She is a (seemingly!) tireless advocate for College Terrace. I don't have to agree with her on any particular issue, but I admire the heck out of her!

Posted by Native Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Did the city look into putting Milk Pail there? That would have been dandy.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2014 at 4:32 pm

OK folks, we've been had again by both developers and city council.

Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Not sure where gennady comes up with the statement that Mikis at alma plaza was " well acclaimed"? This is based on what?
I agree with the comments that the grocery store landscape in Palo Alto has changed and a store like the new Mikis will face competition from larger, more user friendly stores. Perhaps the council should act now and decree that no store in Palo Alto can be bigger than the new Mikis will be.

Posted by Why not?
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Instead of more offices and a couple ot token apartments on that block, how about just one big Safeway, with parking on the roof? That way we wouldn't have to drive to other cities for our affordable weekly shopping.
We don't really need another small yuppie grocery store.

Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2014 at 12:21 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

Miki's had a wonderful cheese selection--better than other stores in the area. It was the closest to a real cheese shop like one in Carmel, some in san Francisco, and berkrly bowl. Milk Paul has good cheese too. A friend told me that Miki's had the best prepared masticoli she had ever had...I guess she'd had a few. I found the people nice and the priced reasonable, less than Molly Stones. I hope it can succeed, but I don't think the college terrace folk will shop there for most goods. I don't really understand why people go to Trader Joe's for pre-packaged meat from who knows where when there are good meat available elsewhere, like the old JJ&Fs.

Posted by mh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2014 at 1:31 am

Miki Werness is 68. He will be 70 when the store opens in 2016. He will be 90 when the lease expires.

Posted by mh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2014 at 2:22 am

According to his resume, Uriel Chavez worked from 2002 until 2006 for his cousin, Romiro, who owns the La Hacienda Market in San Mateo and the La Hacienda Market in Menlo Park. From 2006 to 2009 Uriel owned and ran LLG Pharmacy in Sacramento. According to the public record LLG Pharmacy went bankrupt in 2009. Uriel returned to work for Ramiro for exactly one year, but they had a falling out, resulting in Romiro filing a lawsuit against Uriel. Uriel has not worked in the grocery business since 2010. His total work experience in the grocery business was 8 years and four months, and his resume states he currently works for Fermi Construction. Uriel's resume was included with the package of information that was submitted to the council. He is 42 years old.

Unfortunately the developer, Mr. Baer, made many claims to the public and council about Uriel that were not supported by Uriel's own resume. Although Uriel's name is Chavez and his cousin owns two markets, there is no mention of any work connection at all with any other markets.

Posted by Laurie
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I'm excited about the possibility of another beloved grocery at the JJ&F site. A grocery with personality!

Posted by mh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Wish I could be as excited as Laurie. In the short run we will probably have a really nice store, but it's not as if it will open tomorrow. When it does, in 2016, Miki will be 70. Just wish he was twenty years younger.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 18, 2014 at 1:29 am

Let's see - we have a PC based on a grocery, a grocer who will be 70 when the market opens signing a 20 year contract, no business plan, a LLC for which the incorporation papers were filed in Arizona on the same day that CC voted to approve the grocer, a process that included three proposed grocers, two of whom had relevant bankruptcies and one who didn't have a single day of experience in the field, no new environmental review despite changed circumstances and new information, and oversight of the public benefit left in the hands of the same Staff that recommended approval of the PC and each of the proposed grocers. Business as usual?

I hope the grocery succeeds but how approval was obtained (late submissions of information, one-way flow of information, late-night and time-pressured decisions, chaotic meetings, limitation of public testimony, no apparent due diligence, etc.) needs to change. The new Council has its work cut out for it; hopefully they will take steps to restore credibility.

Posted by Jens P
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 18, 2014 at 10:44 am

What is wrong with a grocer being 70 years old? We in College Terrace have asked for the grocery store to be revived. We should take a more positive attitude towards its success and move on. Anybody who needs to compete with Safeway and Trader Joe's has already enough of a challenge. I am looking forward to the day our new store opens and I defer my judgement until then.

Posted by Beth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2014 at 11:29 am

$2,000 a day fine? How vindictive can a City Council get? What happens if a new grocer arrives in 35 years and the store is empty for 2 weeks during the turnover? This is just mean spirited legislating.

Posted by 2000/day
a resident of Barron Park School
on Dec 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Is 2000/day too much?

It's a question of what the value of the zoning exception is worth.

After 35 years, would 28,000 not be a drop in the bucket of gains made because of the zoning exception allowed?

The burden of meeting this requirement is on the developer, and the developer has not shown serious intent to meet the burden (by supporting viable business plans, appropriate accommodations and necessary adjustments of the development as a whole to ensure success of a small grocer). The *only* reason the exception was granted was because of the desirability of a small grocer there.

Especially given this circumstance, there should be a very compelling motivation for the owner/developer to meet his requirement.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 18, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

The $2K penalty per day goes into effect after 6 months of closure. Council Member Klein introduced a motion to index it to any increase in consumer price index, and, if I recall correctly, Council Member Schmid introduced a motion to only allow one 6 month period of closure without penalty every 5 years. Both motions passed.

Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2014 at 6:22 pm

This whole penalty thing is ridiculous. Suppose miki fails again ( and I still do not understand why people think that miki is gods gift to the grocery business). Why would someone else invest their life savings t run an undersized grocery store? I think this venture will be another spectacular failure and I am not sure why Collgee terrace needs a third grocery store nearby.

Posted by Thoughtful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Thoughtful is a registered user.

Notice that the Grocery Outlet that took the space where Mikis used to be has long lines at the cashier.

What does this tell you?

It wasn't the location, but the high prices.

I for one will continue to drive all the way to The Milk Pail for the great prices, stop at Grocery Outlet on the way, and get vegetables on special at Di Martinis. Not everyone in Palo Alto can afford the high end shops.

I wish that Palo Alto would really be "green" and get organic local produce and divy it up coop style. Can do same with cheese, etc locally sourced.

This would be a fabulous use for the College Terrace Market site.

MIKI-bring the prices down if you really want to suceed. Some creativity will go a long way.

Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 18, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Dear MH,

I wish I were 20 years younger as well. Perhaps you do too if you think about it.

As many of us "mature" folks can attest, agism is perhaps the most virulent form of discrimination around. Keep that in mind.

The council and the residents wanted "experience". At least they have that in Mr. Werness.

I'm willing to give it a try and wish him very well.

Posted by MH
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I mention Miki's age because the 20-year lease with another 10 year option was required by the city (the same terms offered to John Garcia of JJ&F at the time the zone-busting development was approved) to give the market the best shot at staying in business under the same owner for at least that length of time. I hope Miki will be active and energetic, in good health physically and mentally, for the next 20 years, because running a small market will require him to be. And I hope he will be in a position to take up the 10 year option. Continuity of the grocer was the intent. Yes, I'm retired, and I agree this is agism. But if you know about the history of this project and what has transpired since August you might find that what staff and the council did late Monday night to bail out a developer and steamroll his request was not in the public's interest.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2014 at 7:44 am

Fully agree w/MH comments about Miki's age. That he is 68 now and interested in doing this is terrific and my sense is that people wish him well and hope he succeeds. What makes his age a factor of interest is the overall way his selection fits into the picture (including the decision to essentially overlook a relevant bankruptcy and that he was in then out then in again) that casts doubt on the developer's sincerity with regard to maintaining a neighborhood serving grocery in the CT Centre. A person who will be 70 when a 20 year enterprise is launched might reasonably be expected to retire before age 90. Finding a viable grocer for this store has proven to be very difficult; hopefully there is a good succession plan.

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