Walking in from the streets on a cold January day, Rowhouse Grocery in Point Breeze is a pleasant surprise. Fresh produce in open crates à la the Italian Market greet you, along with the warm tones of a new finished-wood interior, set against the faded colors of the building's original brick wall, which still has a sign for a roofer.
Opening a store with fresh produce and food options in this mostly residential neighborhood without a lot of food offerings was a purposeful decision to invest a community where the four co-owners live, they told Metro.
"We all felt we had worked in the food industry in several different facets," said Jen Holman who along with Susan Holland, Allie Hauptman and Travis Weissman opened the store in November. "Our goal was to see how we could translate these ideas about a business we could work in and run ourselves, and yet give back and be involved in our community."
Downstairs, Rowhouse Grocery has affordable vegetables and basic food products — as well as soup stocks, prepared meals and premade sandwiches the staff make in their kitchen upstairs, along with a coffee bar.
Holman said that in rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze, the owners were very conscious of setting price points and stocking products that work for all their neighbors. There is organic tofu from Allentown, but it's right next to sliced bacon for $3.25. They brought in somewhat pricy organic milk by request for some customers, but intend to mostly stock more affordable products.
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Rowhouse Grocery's Jen Holman, left, and Allie Hauptman cook up prepared meals and reuse aging products in their kitchen upstairs. (Sam Newhouse)
While the store isn't yet approved to accept SNAP benefits, they hope to be able to accept SNAP soon, Holman said.
"That's definitely a focus of ours, because there is statistically a large number of households in this neighborhood that receive SNAP benefits," Holman said. "A lot of our pricing scale is geared toward making sure that our products are affordable for a family that lives on SNAP benefits."
Only open for a few months, the store is getting positive responses so far.
"It's a good addition to Point Breeze. We needed that," said Ali Razak, an Uber Black driver who has lived in Point Breeze for 14 years. "When I want to buy some fresh produce or organic products, I have to go to Shaw's or Whole Foods or go all the way to Upper Darby. ... If I can get something closer by, I don't have to drive."
State Reps. Jordan Harris and Maria Donatucci, whose districts both include part of Point Breeze, have praised the store for bringing options for healthy eating to residents living in a food desert.
A dozen local eggs is on sale for $2.50 and regular vegetables are around a buck a pound. There are prepared meals for $5 and $6 — meatloaf sandwiches, chickpea and tuna salads, plus "baseball chicken," the simple but filling chicken-with-arugula meal Holman and her husband make their kids during baseball season — plus a range of soups and stocks made fresh upstairs.
From left, Rowhouse Grocery co-owners Susan Holland, Jen Holman, Allie Hauptman and Travis Weissman, outside their shop at 1713 McKean St. (Sam Newhouse)
Part of keeping the prices low includes using the kitchen upstairs to reuse products as they age, rather than just tossing them out.
"We got tomatoes the other day, and they don't last forever," Holman said. "When they start to look like maybe they're past their peak, they're perfect for tomato sauce, so then that's what we're selling."
Slightly old pears get recycled into pie instead of tossed. Bread becomes breadcrumbs. Using the kitchen to turn old products into new helps the store's bottom line, Holman said, but also fulfills the owners' personal goals of not tossing out as much food as other restaurants and stores tend to.
"These are not new ideas. These are ideas my grandmother used. It's easy to move away from that in a modern world, where you can just go buy breadcrumbs," Holman said. "It's really valuable to stop for a minute and think about how to move away from the waste. Food waste is such a huge problem in the food industry, and it's something that can and should be addressed."
(Disclosure: One of Rowhouse Grocery's co-owners is related to a Metro US employee).