My guest today is Cassie Green, owner and head stockgirl of Green Grocer Chicago. Welcome to OpEdNews, Cassie. Please tell us a little about your business.
Thanks Joan! Our business, Green Grocer Chicago, is an intimate, neighborhood market that is focused on organic and locally produced foods and drink. We buy direct from dozens of Midwestern farms for our fresh produce, dairy, eggs and meats. We work with several distributors as well, especially for our organic but non-local products. The store stemmed from several desires. One was my desire to own my own business and quit working for "the man". The other was to do something every day that fed my soul (and apparently my stomach). It took a while to figure out that opening a little organic/local grocery store was where I would feel alive and like I was feeding my passion but that's what it was! I was also longing for a place that felt like a community hub for our great neighborhood of West Town and even more intimately Noble Square. I think that our place creates a feeling of community surrounding the idea of conscious, delicious and sustainable food and drink. I feel truly fortunate to be able to get up and do what we do every day!
Can we delve a little deeper into what you were doing professionally before you discovered your passion for a community grocery?
Sure! So, I had been working in the corporate world for about eight years when I got the bug to follow my passion (which at first I didn't know what it was) and to own my own business. Since graduating college in the late nineties, I worked for Aldi Foods, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the most recent corporate work was for Cartier. Pretty varied experience but once I realized that I wanted to open a little organic/local market, it became clear that all of my previous experience had prepared me perfectly for it! Naturally, working with Aldi, I learned about inventory management, perishables, ordering and such. Enterprise was really focused on customer service and also treating each branch as a small business. I learned how to read and understand a profit and loss statement, which was great since I had never taken a business class in my life. Cartier was, of course, all about the highest quality and providing an amazing experience to clients of the brand. I was able to draw on the years of experience with all of these companies and once you sprinkled in my passion for a sustainable, regional food system, I like to think a little magic happened!
Green Grocer Chicago
It was meant to be! So, how did you go from taking that accumulated experience and knowledge and applying it to actually opening an organic/local market? How did you know where to open, what to look for, how to put it all together?
Well, I didn't really know anything at all (sometimes I still feel that way)! My husband and I realized there was a missing piece in our neighborhood - a good market/grocer. I love to cook and before we opened the store, there were many nights or weekends when I'd be cooking and would wish I had some other ingredient. However, the closest option for decent food was Whole Foods on Huron, which meant a 15-minute bike ride or getting in the car. Neither of these were good options when you've got stuff simmering on the stove! We figured that we couldn't be the only people in our neighborhood who would like an extremely carefully curated market filled with organic and local produce, meats, milk, eggs, fresh bread, shelf staples, yummy sweet treats and stuff like that. Thank goodness we figured right since we're still here after 3 1/2 years!
As far as location, the space we are in is just about 100 feet from our apartment and it just happened to be getting built when we were looking to open. For products, I checked our farmers' markets, Whole Foods, online searches, other small grocers in Chicago and got ideas there. I wanted to make sure that the products fit into the idea of the most sustainable food options possible. I think we've done a good job of doing that. We also continue to change our product selection based on new, better options out there. It is so key to our mission to offer the best selection of foods in terms of taste, body health, local economy health and planet health. So we can't be stagnant! We are constantly striving to find the best out there.
As far as putting it together, we got a lot of help from friends on how to merchandise, display, paint, house and generally organize the store. I've always loved customer service so for me it was simply about how to have our customers have a wonderful experience possible in our store. I believe that much of that experience comes from the intangible stuff but also having a neat, organized, clean, well signed store also makes for a good experience! We do our best to make sure that people enjoy being at our store and that they feel comfortable. Much of how we do things has been learned along the way!
Well, it's clear that you love what you do, Cassie. And what a great commute. But because you live so close by, is it hard to leave it all behind at the end of the day? Do you have a personal life, too?
Ha! Yes I really have no excuse for ever being late opening the store. I feel like I do have a personal life but also now that I'm doing something for my "work" that I'm so passionate about, the need for the separation of work/personal life doesn't feel as important. Food and cooking are a joy for me and we're so fortunate to have met so many incredible people through the store that it's something I'm happy to bring home with me for the most part. I think what I have to be aware of is that doing just one thing (no matter how much you love it) makes for a one-dimensional person so I definitely make a conscious effort to make time for other activities! I love spending time with my husband/business partner Gary, time with friends, riding my bike, dancing, singing, hanging out with our dogs and our very needy cat, travelling. Making time for those things also make me a better business owner since getting space from the store allows me to come back to it in a more creative way.
Now that you have a three-year track record under your belt, what tweaks do you have up your sleeve for Green Grocer Chicago, Cassie?
Oh man, if I knew, I'd tell you! No, I think that as we continue we are simply trying to make small changes to be better every day. It's less about the big stuff and more about fine tuning, of course always listening to our customers to hear what they want/need and working to make our little store the best place we can make it. When I think back to when we first opened, I'm amazed at how many changes have occurred since them but since they have happened little by little, you don't always see the progress. It's nice to step back and to hear from our long-term customers (as in people who shopped with us Day 1 and still are shopping with us) how much they think we've improved too! Hell, we're still figuring it out (and probably will be for a long time) but that's part of the fun of it. There are always new challenges to address and projects to create so it doesn't get boring for me.
Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
Excellent advice, Cassie. Thanks so much for talking with me. I enjoyed it!
Green Grocer Chicago / Local, Organic, Delicious 1402 West Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642-6303; (312) 624-9508 --