Behind the scenes at the big move for Staff of Life
I have excitedly watched the transformation of a building on Soquel Avenue from that of an auto dealership into Staff of Life's new home. Now, a metal fence has been built around the entrance with a canopied roof. An open-air beverage bar and produce bins house things like colorful berries. It’s a good welcome into the store.
Mid-afternoon on the day before the grand opening, the large parking lot was full, as was bordering Darwin Street. There was an air of excitement as throngs of shoppers pushed carts through the aisles and greeted strangers. School children bagged their favorite vegetables.
Couples compared prices. Others took self-guided tours to learn the layout while the staff was still stocking shelves.
One of my favorite areas is the well-stocked bulk section, which now seems even larger. You can save 50 to 60 percent on bulk teas compared to processed and over-packaged bags, and for many bulk spices, you would pay five to six times the price in other stores' plastic bottles.
The aroma of lasagna from the cafeteria-style hot food line drew me to the deli. Sushi chefs rolled fresh creations. Meatloaf and marinated chicken awaited a trip home to the oven. Precious little remained of muffins, turnovers and cookies in the baked goods case.
An extensive meat and seafood counter spans almost an entire wall, at least double its previous size. Natural meats from Niman Ranch, Diestel, Applegate, Creekstone Farms and Mary's air-cooled chicken are featured here and in the deli. Even the cheese section is larger with huge aged wheels and many artisan selections like my favorites: Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor, soft-ripened like brie, but made from goat's milk; Pecorino Moliterno with an even stronger truffle aroma; and Redwood Hill Farms smoked goat cheddar.
Staff of Life Natural Foods Market, 1266 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-8632. Store Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Visit staffoflifemarket.com.
At long last El Salchichero, home of handcrafted charcuterie, is open for business in the Swift Street Courtyard. This butcher shop, owned by Chef Chris LaVeque (of Manresa Restaurant, Gabriella Cafe and Cellar Door fame) purchases local, humanely raised animals. Charcuterie is considered an art in France dating back to the 1400s, when specialized butchers cooked, mixed, seasoned and cured meat products.
Last week the glass case was filled with fresh house-made sausages, beautiful cuts of beef, lamb, goat, rabbit and pork, including bacon. I'm looking forward to upcoming pâté, rillettes and, especially, salumi, hoping to experience some old world flavor missing in mass-produced brands. LaVeque says he just hadn't had time to make any yet. I'm also looking forward to his classes. In the past he's enlightened foodies with home-cured hams and sausage-making. I'll keep you posted.
El Salchichero, 402 Ingalls St., Suite 5, Santa Cruz, 423-MEAT (6328). Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit elsalchichero.com for this week's list of available products.
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