written and photographed by Ree Slocum
When I walk into the Westside Renaissance Market in a quiet neighborhood not far from downtown Ukiah, I’m filled with nostalgia. The neighborhoods I grew up in all had small stores like this, and as kids we would walk or bike to them for candy or the odd grocery item Mom needed from her shopping list. It was a time before strip malls and big box stores dominated a small town’s retail landscape. We came and went freely and were known by name.
Scott Cratty, owner of Westside Renaissance Market, has an ever-evolving vision of what the local food movement can look like and the Westside Renaissance Market is a great example of his unfolding dream. Eight years ago he bought the failing neighborhood food market on Clay Street. There used to be many of them and the Westside Market, built in the mid-1930s, is the last of its kind in Ukiah. Because local food is a passion for Scott (he manages the Ukiah Farmer’s Market), he reenergized the store to prioritize “localized” food and other regional products. Besides operating his own store and likes to support other small businesses. Part of the Market’s mission statement is to help people get their foot in the door by testing things out in the market and, if successful, start in the food business. “It used to be, 20 years ago, there were a bunch of neighborhood markets and if you were a producer you could make some money,” Scott says. He wants to make sure that “people who produce food—like Joyce [of Construction Jam] who lives up the street—have a place to sell [their goods].”
Realizing that producers need to reach beyond Mendocino County to stay afloat, Scott became an active member of North Bay Made, a recently formed organization designed “to support regional economic resiliency through developing a recognized brand of excellence.” Counties included in the branding are Sonoma, Solano, Marin, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake. Look for the shelf tags in other stores like Mariposa Market in Willits, Three Sisters in Ukiah, and Harvest Markets in Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Scott has a unique method for organizing products in the store. The Construction Jams he mentioned are on the top shelf of the jam and jelly section with a “Mendocino Made” shelf tag under them and, according to a hand made sign, are made “In the Hood” near the market. From there the extensive selection expands geographically to jams made in other Mendocino County communities like Talmage, Philo, and Fort Bragg. The “Mendocino Made” jams fill three shelves with no need for other regions. In contrast, the hand made pasta sauce section started with just one “Mendocino Made” sauce, Gattonelli’s Sugopronto, and right next to it Angelo’s and Mia’s Kitchen brands had the “Sonoma Made” tag under them. The selection expands to other “North Bay Made” options from there. “We’re probably the only place you’ll ever come to where the jams [and other products] are organized geographically,” Scott told me.
Added to great groceries I found at the Market is a deli with a variety of enticing dishes made by local restaurants or caterers. You’ll find Frittata, Sweet Potato Tagine, and a Lemon Greek Chicken prepared by Amanda Fairall from Fairall Farm. Elevenzies Cafe in Willits delivered Veggie Enchiladas, Pesto Pasta Salad, and good old Mac and Cheese. I thoroughly enjoyed the warmed, medium-spiced, and perfectly cooked Lemon Greek Chicken over rice for lunch, and sat at one of the window tables that overlooked a residential street and rain-pelted trees. To complete my nostalgic experience, three teenage girls at the next table enjoyed candy and sodas while chatting. They’re from the neighborhood and meet each week at the store to sit and talk.
Favored by many is the store’s wide selection of craft brewed beers. They’re not just in the “North Bay Made” family. You’ll find carefully selected international and national brands that would take a person sampling one unusual brew daily well over two months to complete. It’s touted as the best selection of craft brews north of Santa Rosa.
The delicious deli offerings, expansive beer selection, and thoughtfully curated regional products are just some of the attractions in this local jewel. It’s well worth the perceived “inconvenience” to venture off the beaten path for a visit. When Scott’s behind the counter, I’m sure he’d enjoy sharing his extensive understanding of regional and local food issues. And if it’s Mendocino County local or North Bay regional you’re looking for, you’ll be in the perfect place to find what’s available for your discerning tastes.