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Chalkboards along the wall outline the details of sandwich and smoothie specials, and the shelves lie stocked with everything from pasta sauce and fresh hummus to Ayurvedic supplements and gluten-free treats by Bake My Day. An electric sign advertising Dietz & Watson deli fare lights up the window, while a colorful mural by Red Eye Wear brightens up an inside wall, and awnings emblazoned with mantras like “healthy inspiration” and “faith in food” provide shade from the summer sun. Urban Gourmet Food & Market may not have staged a grand opening celebration yet, but its doors are open and the shop is ready for business.
It won’t be the first market to open its doors in the San Diego neighborhood of South Park. There’s Food Bowl and an IGA supermarket for much of the basics, Halcyon for organic and fair trade tea, Grant’s Marketplace for bottled craft beers, artisan cheeses, and other upscale fare, and plenty of bars and restaurants lining 30thand Fern St. in between. But Urban Gourmet Food & Market isn’t here to compete.
Rather, says store manager Amanda DeWitt, the hope is that the shop will fill a very important gap in the neighborhood’s market.
It’s a gap DeWitt noticed after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease earlier this year. As a specialist in nutrition and holistic medicine, healthful food was already high on DeWitt’s priorities; this discovery sparked a total reevaluation of her diet, as well as the availability of healthy gluten-free snacks and meals as a whole.
“Being diagnosed with Celiac in the last six months has changed my whole view on food, and it has been a real difficult transition,” says Dewitt. “With being a Celiac and not having a lot of choices on where I can stop and grab something quick to go, I find that giving people with dietary challenges a place to just grab-and-go is not very common, especially in this neighborhood.”
The solution: a shop that would not only provide quick, tasty, and high-quality options for people with dietary challenges, but would also raise awareness of those challenges in the process. “So instead of people having to travel downtown or into Hillcrest,” DeWitt explains, “they can ride their bike or walk to grab some quick gluten free groceries or even gourmet groceries.”
To make this vision happen, DeWitt enlisted friend and former neighbor Joe Zaitona, who also owns a coffee shop within Mission Valley’s La Mirage complex. Not that going into business in South Park area was a hard sell. “I love this neighborhood, and I love to be a part of it,” says Zaitona. “It’s changed a lot in the past decade – it got better, not worse. We needed this kind of concept, and it fits in perfect. So that’s what got us over here.”
While gluten free options are a huge priority for Urban Gourmet Food & Market, it isn’t the entire focus. “We’re going to be geared towards everybody,” says Dewitt. “We’ll have a deli that’s geared towards vegans, vegetarians, and people who wanted to know where their food is coming from. We’ll be able to supply that information. Our organic produce is going through Specialty Produce, so I’ll be able to really specify where things are coming from.”
The menu at Urban is still evolving, but its initial offering is already plenty promising. Pastries have flown off the shelves almost overnight, and early adopting customers have been sounding off on the internet in favor of the shop’s espressos, sandwiches, and smoothies. (In particular, the banana and electrolyte-packed Hangover Remedy seems to be in a prime position to win over neighborhood residents after wild nights at nearby Hamilton’s Tavern or Whistlestop.) But whatever else DeWitt and Zaitona decide to add, it’s all gravy on the road to this little market’s future success.