Red Truck Fresh Produce Opens in Eastern Market, add training for vets

New store inside Gratiot Central Meat Market secures nearly $1.3 million in public, private grants


By SHERRI WELCH, Crains Detroit
November 13, 2015 12:00 p.m. UPDATED 11/19/2015

The new Red Truck Fresh Produce store opening in Eastern Market on Monday will include a 1941 Ford Truck filled with locally grown produce, as this rendering shows.
A new fresh produce market in Eastern Market is set to open Monday, rounding out the offerings at Gratiot Central Meat Market and launching a new job training program for local veterans.

Red Truck Fresh Produce is co-owned by Eastern Market Corp. and the Warren-based Community Growth Partnership, a nonprofit collaborative of local grocers and affiliated groups led by United Food and Commercial Workers.

Located inside Gratiot Central market at Gratiot Avenue and Russell Street in Detroit, the store will offer fresh produce and smoothies and locally made food products six days a week.

In the center of the new store, customers will find its namesake: a red, 1941 Ford truck filled with fresh produce from Eastern Market’s wholesale market and Keep Growing Detroit growers, said Eastern Market President Dan Carmody. The back of a white, box truck mounted on the wall will feature prepared food products from FoodLab Detroit and the Detroit Kitchen Connect program. They include brands such as Jenn’s Gluten-Free Gems, Nirvana Tea, Brooklynn Brownies with Love, Slow Jams and Beau Bien Fine Foods.

Red Truck has secured just less than $1.3 million in public and private grants for renovations and the first two years of operation for the store, which is located in space leased from building owner Tom Bedway, president of Ronnie’s Meats and a member of Eastern Market Corp.’s board.

The funding includes grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Comerica Charitable Foundation, Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Another $150,000 from the Detroit Lions is funding the first year of a rotating, workforce development program at the new store, operated by Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit.

Goodwill will bring cohorts of seven veterans who have already completed life skills and customer service training to the store for 13 weeks of on-the-job training that will teach them cashiering, merchandising, stocking and other responsibilities, said Brenda Etheridge, Goodwill’s director of veterans services.

The employee trainees will begin stocking the store Saturday in preparation for its opening to the public Monday, she said. A manager from Community Growth Partnership will oversee the store operations.

Red Truck will keep a core number of employees, but the goal of the workforce development program is to train people for full-time work with benefits at other area food businesses, Carmody said.

For Eastern Market, the store also represents a way to strengthen the portion of the market that’s south of the Fisher Freeway, he said.

Ultimately, Eastern Market would consider employee-owned options for the store, he said. “Our goal is to ensure we achieve the food access and workforce development objectives, not to be in long-term management of a store.”

For Community Growth Partnership, a nonprofit launched in 2013 with the goal of establishing employee-owned grocery stores to create jobs in the region, Red Truck represents its first grocery store project, board President Mary Lou Malone said.

The partnership was invited into the Red Truck store by Eastern Market and Goodwill, she said. The store “looked like one that we could get in and get our feet wet and do something good, and it would help to further the rest of our mission.”

The goal is to convert the store to a worker-owned cooperative at some point, she said.

For now, any excess revenue from the store will be invested in improving food access programs that improve the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables and increase the demand for them, Carmody said.

The store will accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit cards, known in Michigan as the Bridge Card, and Double Up food bucks — incentives provided through the Ann Arbor-based Fair Food Network to match the fresh produce purchases of those shopping with SNAP benefits.

The new store incorporates “experiential design,” said Ken Nisch, chairman of Southfield-based retail consulting firm JGA Inc., which served as a design consultant for Red Truck.

“Today’s customers are looking for something beyond function; they are seeking a shopping experience that is casual, yet unique and interesting,” he said in an emailed statement.

The unique, “found” objects inside Red Truck, such as the restored, vintage Ford, exposed ceilings and industrial lighting “all still provide a grocery experience, but with an urban twist,” he said.