The Food Bin is one of those local businesses that is just so Santa Cruz. I remember discovering it as a student at UCSC, when the bulk bins, dreadlocked cashiers and mysterious adjacent Herb Room blew my country-girl mind. Since then, I’ve grown to appreciate being able to stop in to grab some essentials when I don’t feel like making a big trip to a large market, especially now that it’s the only locally owned grocery store on the Westside.
But in the past year or so, I couldn’t help but notice that something was a little bit different—in a good way. I started to see more high-quality products on the shelves. There was always this really friendly guy hanging around, kindly boxing up my groceries for me and offering me a sample of some cool local product they had just gotten in. And, most recently, the whole building got a new paint job. I figured there must be something going on.
It turns out that the market came under the ownership of husband-and-wife team Doug Wallace and Peggy Ewlensen in October, after they had managed the store for more than a year. Both Wallace and Ewlensen grew up in Santa Cruz, and returned to their hometown from Seattle when the opportunity to purchase the Food Bin came up.
Wallace—the helpful manager I kept encountering—has worked in markets since he was a teenager, and has an interest in nutrition and body care, while Ewlensen’s career was in organics. They seem to have the ideal backgrounds for owning a small natural food store.
The couple has thrown themselves into making improvements to the Food Bin while striving to preserve its quirky character. Customer service is their No. 1 priority, and Ewlensen says that overall the community has been very supportive. In the future, they’d like to continue to offer more local products, remove the bulky vapor extraction behemoth from the front of the Herb Room, and refurbish the side garden to forge a community gathering space where they could host First Friday-type vendor events. “We always want to keep its vibe,” says Ewlensen. “It’s not your standard grocery store. It’s unique, and we want to keep it that way.”
1130 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 423-5526.