One Stop Shop – Lunada Bay Market

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Napa Valley comes to the hill

Jocelyn Lopez at Lunada Bay Market, the store she’ll open within the next few weeks. “My goal is to make it a Whole Foods concept with a hint of Napa Valley,” Lopez says. “People I have talked to are excited about not having to leave the Hill for things again.”

by Richard Foss

Before meeting with the landlord, Jocelyn Lopez had spent considerable time planning a business proposal for an empty space in Lunada Bay. Now she is indeed opening a business, but not what she planned.

“I originally wanted to put in a juice and smoothie bar in that building. I worked so hard on my drafts and proposal and presented it to the owner, and he asked, ‘Is that all you’ve got?’” Lopez recalled.  “I felt crushed when he said that but told him I was willing to make adjustments, and he said, ‘You can do more. Fresh & Easy is going out of business – have you ever thought about doing a market?’ I said no, but let me get back to you. I went home and thought about it and slept on it…”

Lopez had previously been involved in hotel catering operations and had never operated a grocery. She decided some research was in order. She went so far as to actually intern at what she considered a few well-operated stores.

“I went to local markets and talked to the owners and managers, I shared with them what I was thinking of doing, and I spent a long time just following people around, asking tons of questions, doing every job in the store,” she said. “I loved all of it, learning how to order things, pulling a product and putting it on the shelves, choosing what to served. One day I came home to my family and said, ‘This is something we can do. And we can do it really well.’”

She was taking on a great legacy, and she knew it. The space on PV Drive West at Yarmouth had previously been Frontier Market and Moore’s. A grocery store had existed at the location for more than 80 years. Fresh & Easy had a relatively short life, opening in 2011 and closing in 2015. It had been Lopez’s neighborhood shopping destination. Even when she was just another customer she had strong opinions about what they did right and wrong.

“I liked the convenience of it, and I liked walking there,” she said. “What I did not like was that even though ‘fresh’ was in their name, nothing was that fresh. It was all prepackaged in plastic, and when it came to produce I wanted to pick my own. I didn’t want anybody telling me I had to buy those four apples because I could see the bruise on one of them. Our produce section will be set up farmer’s market style, so you can get what you want.”

One important thing to do was to see if others shared her assessment of what the community wanted. This is information that a chain grocery would find hard to get and even harder to use because most corporate operations have to carry store brands. Lopez believes that her connections and the flexibility of a small operation will be major assets to the new business.

“As a resident and a parent I’m around the kids and parents all the time, at the walking paths and at school and at baseball. That’s a huge advantage,” she said. “I interviewed groups of parents and asked: What would you like in a store? What does it annoy you that you always have to go down the Hill for? We took a bunch of those panels and broke everything down, so we have that information. I think there’s a lot of room for suiting the market to the neighborhood.”

The vision for the new Lunada Bay Market is of a place with a balance between convenience foods and staples and items that reflect the affluence and lifestyle of the surrounding area.

“I’m a busy mom, and I personally go to about four different stores now to get what I need. I think we all do, living on the Hill,” Lopez said. “In creating the plan for this store I said, I have to make this a one-stop shop. You’ll have everything you need for everyday life at this store, but also the exciting products that are local and special. My goal is to make it a Whole Foods concept with a hint of Napa Valley. People I have talked to are excited about not having to leave the Hill for things again.”

She is clear that this will not be an upscaled convenience store, but a place with a variety of fresh produce and other products. One thing it won’t have is hard alcohol.

“We will not be selling liquor, just beer and wine, so we built a sixteen foot wine wall and space for some craft beers too,” Lopez said. “We put it there because it will complement our high-end cheese case and the other gourmet items we intend to stock. We have an oven and will be baking some of our own breads in the store, and we’re talking to local bakeries. We will be experimenting to see what local products will be most popular.”

It will also have a gourmet deli that will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, as well as take-out meals for people on the go.

“I’ve seen the lifestyle and how busy things get, and wouldn’t it be awesome to have a place to just stop by pick up a full dinner that’s not fast food but it’s delicious food?” Lopez said. “As busy parents we all run into that situation, and having that deli is important for another reason. The most surprising thing I learned when I was interning at other stores was the amount of food wasted. I grew up in a small town in Missouri, and coming from that background, the amount of good, healthy food that was thrown away was shocking to me. I want to make this place as green as possible, to waste as little as possible. There are always situations where things don’t sell, and we can use fresh produce, meat, and fish in cooked dishes at our restaurant and deli. We’ll also be working with a food bank to donate things that are close to expiration so they are used by people who will appreciate them.”

Residents who have seen the work trucks in the parking lot have been waiting impatiently for the opening, but as is always the case the exact date is a moving target.

“Just like when you do a house remodel everything’s a process… We have had the side door open and people have been coming in to check our progress, and they’re very excited,” Lopez said. “We’re doing a health inspection next week, so my goal would be to open in the next three weeks.”

It might be assumed that anyone who takes on a startup business will find it consuming all of their time, so there was an inevitable question: Is she preparing her two children for a time when their mom will be invisible because she’ll be taking care of the grocery needs of hundreds of strangers? Lopez laughed at the very idea.

“That’s funny, because it has been just the opposite,” she said. “I pick them up from school and their activities and they come straight back to the market with me. They help me sweep, and they’re super excited about stocking the shelves. They’re cute little guys and are looking forward to being part of the operation.”

Lunada Bay Market is at  2201 Palos Verdes Dr W, Palos Verdes Estates, 310-377-2025.