August 30, 2011 Posted by Emily in Business, Lifestyle, Outdoors, Sustainable Living
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Good food fast at the Downtown Co-op

By Tyler Allen

The health of a city can often be measured by taking the pulse of its downtown, and most Bozemanites can agree that keeping Main Street vital to the community is important as the city grows. Downtown is a meeting place for both locals and visitors, as well as a walkable place to shop and eat. Since it opened in April 2011, the new Co-op Downtown has encouraged these aspects of the Main Street experience and offered a place to get “good food fast.”

The Co-op Downtown offers a hot food and salad bar all at a flat rate per pound, a departure from the model used at the West Main store where every dish is priced differently and weighed independently.

The intent was to “make things speedy,” said Wendy Westmoreland, the Co-op’s marketing director. They were trying to avoid the bottleneck that can occur at the original store during busy lunch hours, she added.

Though many people would prefer to keep our dollars in the community and invested in food free of chemicals, high cost is usually a deterrent to buying local and organic. Construction of the downtown store was motivated partly by the Co-op’s Board of Directors’ intent to create another outlet offering local and organic foods. Selling more of this food increases their buying power, and in turn decreases the cost to the consumer.

The Main Street location was chosen because it has the potential to serve the most people, and because of the likelihood it would help satisfy the Co-op’s “cooperative business model,” which states that the community owning a business and being invested in its growth gives it the best chance to succeed.

The Co-op offered high interest loans to members who wanted to help build the new store, and they reached their federally-permitted limit within six weeks.

Reaction to the Downtown Co-op has been mostly positive.

“It’s easy to run down there and grab a quick, healthy lunch,” said Amy Kirkland, owner of Altitude Gallery, which is a block away from the new store. It has brought more business to downtown shops like hers and is bringing locals back to Main Street, she added.

In addition, the local food offered is in keeping with the spirit of downtown Bozeman, where locally owned businesses thrive.

The first couple of weeks the Downtown Co-op was open, it hurt lunch business at Main Street Overeasy, but now the honeymoon period seems to be over, said Josh Sponsler, the restaurant’s manager. “The more foot traffic downtown, the better,” he added.

The downtown store is more focused on quality fast food than providing space for grocery items, but produce and staples are offered as well. The “Good to Go” case occupies a large cooler along the wall and holds prepackaged food like Curry Lime Chicken Salad or Vietnamese Rice Noodles, as well as cold deli sandwiches. The salad bar is at least twice the size of the one in the West Main store, and there is ample space between it and the hot bar for patrons to move.

The 40-seat dining area takes up a significant amount of space, giving diners a cafeteria-style experience. Large photos of local food producers hanging on the walls serve as a friendly reminder that you are supporting your neighbors when you sit down for a meal at the Coop Downtown.

Tyler Allen writes from Bozeman.