It has been almost six weeks since Karen Bailey and Amy Zupanci opened Township Grocer, adjacent to Zupanci's Fond in Edwardsville. Come Friday night they'll celebrate the opening with a ribbon-cutting and party, complete with snacks, cheese, cookies and their signature herbal citrus cooler, made with locally grown lemongrass and edible flowers.
"I always wanted to open a little grocery. That was always a part of the plan, to have a little retail outlet," says Zupanci.
Her time at Fond has given Zupanci the opportunity to refine her vision and see where her community fits into the food revolution. "The experiences I've had over the past year and a half made me step back and evaluate how I really felt," she says. "I was sort of naive, but when I stepped back I thought: How can we make a difference? And quite frankly, the difference lands in the middle. Change always comes in the middle. It doesn't come from the extremes of both sides. Don't get everything at a Walmart Supercenter. By extension, don't hold farmers to these standards until you've tried to do these standards.
"In opening the grocery, it was: Let's be gray. A lot of people don't think that's the glamorous way to be, in the middle. It's not a centrist point of view. It's not a moderate point of view. It's a very practical point of view."
She continues, "So let's use all local produce, local milk, local cheese. We have domestic cheeses. But you know? Heinz ketchup is Heinz ketchup. I'm sorry, everyone compares it against Heinz. So just carry Heinz. Let's stop spinning our wheels on minutiae and the things that don't matter, and let's start putting more effort into helping people understand."
That means, for example, making sure customers who ask for grass-fed beef understand that the flavor and texture will be different from corn-fed beef and might require a change in cooking technique.
It also mean removing the intimidation factor. "Making it friendly and saying, 'Look, this isn't so difficult. You don't have to change your lifestyle. You don't have to give up your convenience products. Make small changes. Five things you're going to change this year. Do it, and when they become routine, you don't even see them as changes. Then the following year, make five more. Implement them that way, and that's ultimately the way we move forward.' We're a global society right now. Do you think people are going to give up their convenience products? Absolutely not. Corn is like, our crack. It's in all our food, so how can you give it up? So what are you going to weed out?"
Zupanci has no plans to operate a supermarket of any kind. "Our whole point is you should be able to walk into the grocery and have choices limited. You're not going to have eight different brands of milk to choose from. You'll have one. We've been convinced that we need 8,000 choices."
Township Grocer's choices are good ones -- jam and vegetables canned locally, house-made mayo and mustard in addition to produce, meat, dairy and bread staples. The market also features a deli that offers homemade soups, sandwiches, desserts and catering services.
In staying small Zupanci hopes to capture the best of both the past and the present.
"Let's go back to a simpler time when the modern conveniences started to emerge in the '40s and '50s, but they still had it right," she elaborates. "It was the industrial age, but they still grew their own. If we all grew a little bit of our food -- 2 percent of your own food -- it would make a dramatic difference in the ecology, environment, in everything in this country."
She hopes the grocery will help people relearn to enjoy the simplicity of good food. "Let's be pragmatic and practical. It's that simple. Have fun. Be joyous. Meet with your friends and talk about life. People forget. What are your hopes and dreams? What do you want to do? What was interesting today? Talk to people. We just don't talk to each other any more, and that's sad."
Township Grocer grand opening celebration 102 North Main Street, Edwardsville, Illinois 618-656-0414
Friday, June 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m.