Monterey Market

bill-judy-fujimoto1

The news of discord at Monterey Market is terribly serious and important. If this is new information for you, the short version is that Bill Fujimoto, the head of Monterey Market in Berkeley (and for many, the heart of Northern California’s extraordinary small farm food revolution over the past 30 years), has been at odds with family members about the way the business is run, and he and his wife Judy have resigned effective June 3, 2009.

In hopes of reversing this outcome, many people have suggested notifying the Fujimoto family Board members of their intention to no longer shop at Monterey Market after June 3. We completely support Bill and Judy, but have waited to write something, hoping that the family could find an agreement, and not wanting to inflame a sensitive situation. But it seems to have reached inferno status, with email campaigns flying all over the Bay Area.

Yesterday, a friend emailed:
Do we want to threaten boycotts on businesses when a partner or employee is pushed out (legally, of course)?
Do we know that Monterey Market will go down the tubes if Bill is gone?

So, speaking for myself, a couple of  points:

  1. All organic/sustainable food is far from equal. There is constant pressure on our food system to cut corners, cheapen, misrepresent and deceive. Trust is probably the only worthwhile and true “certification” possible. Bill’s family may do a fine job with the store, but this situation bodes ill, and we don’t know them. We trust Bill.
  2. To say that Bill is central to much of the wonderful food, innovation, community, ideas, jobs, and values that developed from the small farm movement that started here in Northern California in the 1970’s, then spread to other parts of the country, and back to Europe, would suggest that he deserves our loyalty.  But beyond that, our local culture isn’t a thing of the past.  It remains vital, and Bill remains in the middle of it.  He is needed and he deserves our loyalty.

We sincerely hope that the Board of Monterey Market will find a way to go forward with Bill at the head, free to run the business in his truly remarkable way.  Losing Bill at Monterey Market is too great a blow to a food community that is struggling already.

Below, is a note from Bill and a statement from our good friend and tangerine grower Lisa Brenneis, that creates a clear picture of what is so unique and important about Monterey Market and includes information on how you may respond.

From: Bill Fujimoto
Date: Tue, 12 May 2009 23:28:05 -0700

Dear Friends & Family:

Judy and I have been touched by all of the outpouring of support,
encouragement and hope that you have showered upon on us during these last
few months.   It’s been truly emotional and overwhelming, and we are so
lucky to have you in our lives.

To address some of your collective comments directly, recent actions and
involvement from the Board of Monterey Market has forced me to examine very
seriously whether my vision of Monterey Market, a vision that I shared with
my late brother Ken Fujimoto, is in line with the remaining Board’s vision.
Monterey Market’s Board now includes my brother Robert Fujimoto, and his
wife Nancy Fujimoto, his son Scott Fujimoto and his son Steven Fujimoto, and
my sister Gloria Fujimoto.  Regardless of disagreements in vision, I am and
will continue to be compliant and productive as a Shareholder, Board Member,
and Chief Operating Officer.

For me, Monterey Market has been a true labor of love and a member of my
family for the last 30 years.  Since leaving my job as a Silicon Valley
mechanical engineer to become a green grocer in Berkeley in 1978, the Market
has inextricably changed my life and that of my family’s.  It’s provided
Judy, Annie, Amy, and me exposure to so many wonderful experiences,
including the opportunity to connect with talented, passionate people in the
most amazing community in the world.

My parents, Tom and Mary, believed that the Berkeley community was the only
place to foster such a nurturing, open-minded, and all-embracing attitude
where shoppers would be open to trying a funky little place called Monterey
Market.   However, it’s because of supporters like you that I’ve loved every
second – from the 2AM rising for the wholesale market to the last shopper on
Christmas Eve.    It’s because of supporters like you that the Market has
never been running more smoothly in the last 10 years.  It’s because of
supporters like you that even in a tempestuous economy, business has never
been better.

Regardless of where this current path takes us, Judy and I are so thankful
for your continued support, collective voice, and vigilance.

Bill

And from Lisa Brenneis:

Thoughts on the Monterey Market

I love the Monterey Market. It’s a living example of what a grocery store can do for people, and what people can do for a grocery store.

Monterey Market is packed with food, packed with people, packed with ideas, sometimes it’s just packed solid.

Most of what I love about the Market comes from Bill Fujimoto. The Market evolved as an extension of Bill’s interests, attitudes and passions–a legacy he inherited from his folks, market founders Tom and Mary Fujimoto. Bill listens to customers. He’s endlessly knowledgable about where to find quality and value in produce and tireless in seeking it out. He works side-by-side with his great staff; most guys on the floor at Monterey Market know more about good produce than a chain store buyer.

We’ve been selling pixie tangerines and other eccentric citrus to Bill for almost 20 years. We’re not the only growers who consult Bill on national market conditions, inquire about our competition, ask his advice on pricing, or bring him our latest discoveries.

He picked us up when we were just starting out and taught us how to market direct to retail, buying our fruit and making a market for a new tangerine variety. Farmers up and down California can tell you the same story, “Bill was my first customer.”

Many growers you buy from direct can afford to sell you 2 pounds of dry-farmed tomatoes at the local farmers market because they dropped off 650 pounds at Monterey Market on their way into town. Ask them.

Bill buys for flavor and rewards quality. Buying and selling ripe fruit is a highwire act that very few grocers even attempt, and you can’t do it at all unless your growers and your customers trust you enough to shoulder part of the risk. Bill earns the trust of his customers, repeatedly rewarding risk-takers by delivering that rarest thing–a ripe piece of fruit in full flavor. Hot, responsive customers & Bill team up to coax growers into holding that fruit until the perfect moment. Handling ripe fruit is an art, not a science and everybody loses a little fruit to the compost bin. Small price.

The dominant model in food retailing has become a zero-sum game. Grocery chain operators order and plan months ahead of time. If July rolls around and it’s the best peach crop in 20 years, chain buyers react by grinding their suppliers down on price. They won’t drop the price their customers pay; they keep the markup. And incredibly, they don’t order and sell more peaches when there’s plenty available. According to the chain playbook selling more peaches means you’re going to sell less of something else. Zero-sum. So in a great peach year, peach growers are despondent and near ruin, customers pay the same high prices and, because the peaches were picked green so they taste like cardboard, they don’t buy more.

At the Monterey Market, if it’s the best peach crop in 20 years, you’re going to get good peaches at a great price, and unbelieveable peaches at the best price out there, and you’ll get the first peaches, and the last peaches. Growers will sell a lot of peaches, and customers will buy more peaches than they ever dreamed possible and get peach stains on all their t-shirts and have a great summer.

Bill’s in the middle, cheering for the growers when they bring the crop in, winning the customers by talking up the fruit. Talking to everybody, connecting everybody. Trusting everybody.

Independent grocers with the skills to do what Bill does are vanishingly rare. If the Monterey Market turns into a dull-normal “gourmet” corner store with expensive prices and the same produce you see elsewhere, Berkeley will be a darker and colder place.

That’s why Jim and I feel we need to suspend sales to the Monterey Market as of Bill and Judy’s last day — June 3rd.

While not supplying Monterey Market will hurt, and not having it there to shop at will also hurt, it’s meant to be a temporary thing. It’s meant to help Bill & Judy get the control of the Monterey Market that will allow them to run it as they have in the past.

We’re hoping that a demonstration of our support for Bill and Judy might cause his family members to reconsider their actions. It may not work, but Bill and Judy have been too important to our lives and businesses to allow their departure to go unnoticed.

Customers and suppliers who want to indicate their support for Bill and Judy can to write to:

Monterey Market
Attn: Board of Directors
1550 Hopkins St.
Berkeley, CA 94707

Let them know how you feel. If you’re a good customer, tell them. If you’re going to stop spending money there until the situation is resolved, tell them. If you can drop the letter off in person, better.

One more thing: Because these appeals get forwarded there’s an email address being used as a way to collect names and post updates.

If you decide to take action, either by contacting the new management to express your displeasure and/or boycotting the store, please send an email to friendsofmarket@gmail.com to let support coordinators know — so they have a rough count and a place to go to contact supporters.

Don’t give up. Thanks.

Lisa Brenneis

Churchill-Brenneis Orchard

“Eat at Bill’s – Life in the Monterey Market”

10 Responses to “Monterey Market”


  1. Thom Donnelly

    My family and I have spent well over 50% of our food budget at Monterey Market, since we moved to East Oakland. Every Saturday, we trek to North Berkeley, making our stops at Monterey Market, Magnani, Coffee Mart, and Monterey Fish Market. Over the years, we have gotten to know Bill and Judy, and understand their unique commitment to the sustainable food movement.

    Saturday, May 30th was a very sad day as we said our goodbyes to the many workers we have known and and related to every week for 26 years. One of the unique things about Monterey Market is the consistency and stability of the workers at MM. There are so many I can not name them all.

    We, my family and I will not be shopping at Monterey Market again, unless Bill and Judy are running the show. I hope that the family finds a way to resolve their issues, but that being said, my (our family and many of our friends) loyalties are with Bill and Judy.

    The $100/week spent at MM, will go else where. perhaps and probably, some of the $100 will go to our local farmers markets (we already spend $100 at Farmers Markets).

    I am very saddened to be forced to make this decision, but we and our friends will be boycotting Monterey Market until and unless Bill is back in charge.

    Thom Donnelly

  2. Robert W. Birge

    I have shopped st the Monterey Market since Tom and Mary ran it around the corner. I have had Bill and Judy to dinner twice and when I meet him in the market he always has something new for me to taste or can order things specially if necessary. How can it run without him. Bob Birge

  3. Robin Richardson

    I live in Oakland but on Saturdays I rendezvous with friends for coffee at Roma across from Monterey Market and then make the rounds afterwards…fair trade coffee at the Coffee Market, chicken or chicken sausages at Magnani, tamales from the tamale lady, my favorite morning bun with cranberries from the bakery, a trip to Berkeley Hort, and finally (and most importantly), my veggie-shopping at Monterey Market. I rave about Monterey Market to friends…great prices, fresh, ripe produce. When friends and family visit from out of town, a trip to MM is the first thing I think of and off we go.

    I can’t believe what I’m hearing about Bill and Judy. I will miss shopping at MM but I will stop shopping there until there is a resolution of which Bill approves.

    Robin Richardson

  4. Anne Sussman

    The market is my neighborhood store. I’m even willing to stand in line on a busy Saturday if I run out of milk. I will support a boycott of the store until there is a resolution in this dispute and Bill and Judy are back running the store. I’ve lived here for over 40 years and Monterey Market is one of the best reasons for living in the neighborhood and that is due to the way Bill and Judy have been running it. Please don’t let this jewel go away.

    Anne Sussman

  5. Berit Block

    Boycotting the market will only hurt the workers and those of us in the community who could lose this wonderful market. Change is hard but Bill and Judy are leaving by their own choice. Instead of being afraid of change and being negative with a boycott, perhaps it might be better to wait and see how things go. Change is not always a bad thing. How would the restaurant owners feel if we boycotted them based on their opinions. Something I am seriously considering!

  6. Karl Gerstenberger

    Family businesses have unique dynamics, which transcend typical business concerns.

    Instead of a boycott, why don’t the supporters of MM organize a cooperative business venture? Install Bill and Judy as the permanent managers, and then throw it out to a national search when they’re ready to retire. The Hopkins facility has been crazed since my earliest shopping memory in the early 90′s. I loved every crazed minute of it, but there may be a better facility. The family dirty laundry needs to stay in the laundry bag.

  7. Joshua Chavanne

    As a former employee and loyal customer I saw how the market was run and Bill and Judy were integral to the place being what it is. Bill has been consistently a hard worker and involved in the buying. The thing about Bill getting up at 2a.m. is not glamorous, but it is the truth. He gets up to get the good stuff.

    We often are apt to look at these things in a symbolic or confrontational context, but I have to say that the goods come with experience and I cannot say that the new management necessarily has that.

    Judy and Bill have always been calm and cool headed in addition to being great employers, so the decisions they make mean a lot to me, if they are behind the boycott I too am for it. I think they would shy away from saying that though from the amount of tact that I’ve seen them display. Though I do appreciate the efforts of Lisa Brennis and this here blog.

    And at the risk of sounding petty…
    “How would the restaurant owners feel if we boycotted them based on their opinions.” I think this situation is not quite that cut and dry… a better analogy would be, how would you feel if they swapped cooks in the kitchen?

  8. Christine

    On Sunday June 28, there’s going to be a community celebration to thank Bill and Judy Fujimoto for their 31 years at Monterey Market.

    Here are the details:

    Sunday, June 28 from 2 to 5 p.m.
    King School Park in Berkeley (Hopkins Street near Colusa Avenue)
    Please bring a sweet or savory finger food to share

    Hope to see you there!

  9. Jean Kennedy

    It seems to me that in a time when the economy is bad and your nearest/biggest competitor just opened up a nice new store nearby the board of Monterey Market would NOT want to do anything, such as getting rid of Bill, to upset their customer base. Doing that is just a very very bad business decision.

  10. Joan Mocine

    I have shopped at Monterey Market for a zillion years. It’s irritatingly crowded, but the checkout is fast. Parking lot is too small, but there are always places opening up.

    This comment sums it all up:

    A few summers ago I was looking for some stone fruit and saw Bill in that section. I asked what was good today. He said “It’s ALL great.” I bought accordingly, but a small part of me said “Aw, that’s what they all say.”

    When I made the compote, I sampled all the fruit. He was right, it was all really great. I never doubted again.