Friday, December 14th, 2007
Goose the Market (2503 N. Delaware Street, Indianapolis IN, website here) is a new grocer and deli in Indianapolis, located at the border of Fall Creek Place on the northside of downtown, and it is such a good market that I could leave my house keys there. Let me explain.
I remember feeling very jealous when I read Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities. The 1961 book was, at the time, a scathing outsider critique of modernism’s inclination to smash everything old and start anew with cold, hyper-similar buildings, and super distinct residential and commercial zones. It turned the urban planning world on its head. But for all its theory, when I read it in the early 2000s, I was more attracted by Jacobs’ visceral descriptions of life in New York’s Greenwich Village, where residents freely let their kids play on the streets knowing neighbors would watch, tied their dogs to posts and could trust someone to give them water on a hot day, or left their house keys at the local grocer when they went on vacation.
A tangent. Food brings with it a certain amount of trust, right? We put food into our mouth. The mouth is a pretty close place to, well, ourselves. Eating, then, is a very intimate activity. Over decades we’ve been trained to put that trust in corporations. But the basis of that trust is tenuous at best. We trust them as far as we can sue them. We believe that companies would not let a product out of their doors that would come back to bite them in the class action, so to speak. But that trust is barely trust at all, it’s a standoff really, us eying them so they don’t kill us, and them eying our wallets. How is that intimate, or, for that matter, fun? Besides, you’d be stupid to just leave your house keys with the customer service desk at a Wal-Mart. So if you wouldn’t leave your house keys with them, why buy something from them you’re going to put in your mouth?
And, ding!, that’s where Goose comes in. I can leave my keys with them, just as I will buy something (delicious) from them that will eventually (and definitely) end up in my mouth. They are perhaps best described as half deli, half small-produce grocer, half wine and beer cellar, half gourmet foods purveyor, and all trust. It’s interesting too, for all the connectedness in my head between Goose and Death and Life, that the owners, Christopher and Mollie, are habitating it up new-urban style. In very much the spirit of Jane Jacobs, they live on the floor just above the grocer. Although certainly urban, there’s really nothing "new" about this. On the corner of my block in Fountain Square, Indianapolis is a home with two buildings. In the 1890s, one used to be the grocery store, and the other building next door was where the owner lived. But someone living above where they work is new to us, and certainly new to Indianapolis.
Oh yes, not only is Goose just a good idea. It’s also very good tasting too. I’ll leave it to the city’s culinary critics to comment specifically on the food. Suffice it to say that Christopher is a former chef, and so I know I can find white truffle oil just as easily as I can find a gallon of milk. I go to Goose at least twice a week. I don’t shop exclusively at Goose, but it is my first stop before I head to a larger grocery store. If I could somehow make Goose my only stop on what is usually a grocery pilgrimage across the city, I’d be a happier guy.
If you’re reading this from a cafe in Portland, Boston, Chicago, or, say, Greenwich Village, you might be chuckling at what you might think is simple-minded, Midwestern naivete. "Oh, he’s impressed with a neighborhood grocery! How quaint!" Ok, you try to start this kind of market in Indianapolis, replete with local cheeses, meats, and gelato. This city, for all its fine attributes, is a sprawl, a complete mess of suburbs and interstates. Christopher and Mollie have some serious kahunas to have set up shoppe right in the smack dab middle of it all. Is there enough foodie slash new-urban culture here to sustain them?
I don’t know, but I’ve never been in the Goose when my daughter and I are the only customers. I bet there are plenty of people who’d leave their keys with Goose.
Speaking of which . . . I had some questions about Goose, and I luckily managed to wrangle an email interview out of Christopher. He somehow works in the pope, napkins, and Pink Floyd.
John: TIME Magazine recently published an article discussing the merits of local food versus organic food. This is a debate that is slowly gaining more and more attention. Goose is a big pusher of local, right? – what are your reasons for this? Who would win in a Mexican Wrestling match: organic or local?
Christopher: There is a strong tie between organic and local. In my opinion neither one guarantees that it is going to taste wonderful. My point is that I want look for food that is wholesome, beautiful and most importantly taste better than it looks. I could care less if it was blessed by the pope. Our market is focused on locally produced foods, because I know that the people who produce the food care about the food. They have the passion for raising and growing good food. Their livelihood depends upon it. Generally speaking they don’t cut corners (ex. Antibiotics and Hormones) and they treat the animals with respect. These animals only have one bad day.
Organic is nice, but at it’s core it is an expensive certification by the government. It tends to guarantee wholesomeness in growth but not necessarily quality. It’s still has to be cared for by the fifteen people that touch it before it reaches your table. Those fifteen didn’t produce it and they may not care as much. Many local farmers have organic practices they just don’t have the funds to get certified by the government.
Who wins in a Mexican Wrestling match? If I know who raised it and I trust them then my money is always on local product. It’s like having a ref call the match on the inside.
J: You were jetsetters in Chicago. Why set up shop in Indianapolis (which is not exactly on the foodie radar for anything but steak and corn)? And why Fall Creek and not, say, Broad Ripple?
C: Indy is home for Mollie and I. I always knew that if I set up shop it would be somewhere I would want to be for a long period of time. I would rather try to introduce something new to the environment then try to copy something someone has done down the street. I fell in love with the neighborhood and huge part of this concept is that neighborhood feel. Great cities are made up of unique ideas not carbon copy suburbs. Who says Indy can’t have some character?
There are so many people that have a vested interest in the success of these neighborhoods that it acts as a support system of people that I we trust. It’s a different game when people genuinely care.
J: Tell me a little about the genesis of Goose. What was the seed for the idea, and at what point did you think, "Hey, this is really going to happen"?
C: The Goose was actually the third business idea that I have worked on. The idea actually started on a napkin and was based on the neighborhood and the building. My sister was the first to mention the location and she kept me posted as the buildings progressed. It didn’t fit the business model I was working on at the time so I designed the business around the location. We like the area and the building so well it made sense. Food is the only thing I know. I have never done anything else and there is nothing I would rather be doing.
The first time I thought “Hey, this is really going to happen” was about ten minutes before we opened the door on our first day. Everything leading up were just hurdles that we had to jump. One problem after the next. You don’t know it is going to happen for sure until it happens.
J: How’s it been living it up mixed-use (residence upstairs, business downstairs) style?
C: When you wake up in the morning and your feet hit the ground you are at work. You are always at work or you are always at home. It depends how you want to look at it. So far so good. I have always worked long hours so it is nice to be able to see my wife and dog.
J: One of the things I like about Goose is that it’s evident that there is a web of relationships with *people* that supply the store, not corporations like even the more organic grocery stores in town. What’s that like, building that network up? It seems like a lot more work than just calling in an order to a company.
C: You have to be able to trust these people and work with them. What they do is incredibly difficult. They do it all. The relationships you build with these people are the best part. The corporations are so worried about branding a farm or a product that they loose site of the people who actually produce it. I read an article two years ago that stated that on a commercial head of beef only 10 cents on the dollar actually makes it to the farm or individual who raised it.
Do you know how much the farmer gets who produces food for the Goose? All of it. I write the check directly to the guy who caught the ewe at birth. Keep in mind his expenses considering loss, delivery and feed are much higher for them. None the less, who do you think cares more about their product?
J: To employ a crude generalization, you’ve gone from cook to clerk. What inspired that move, and how’s it been so far?
C: I am getting use to it. I have always been a cook and always will be. It is never defined by my occupation. I love food and people. As long as I’ve got those things I will be alright.
J: Best album to cure a ham to?
C: Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon.
It’s my favorite part of the day. Alone in the kitchen (or shop now) late at night, turn it up and spend some quality time with the swine.
Filed under: interview