Movin' on Up
Kombucha tastings & art launches: A health-conscious urban bodega is born in aHouston highrise
The new Nature's Market in the ground floor of the south tower of the Mosaic highrise stocks, among other things, handmade jalapeño linguine, organic baby food packets and locally grown okra. And lurking behind the shiny metal racks and 100-year-old produce wagon is a lot of ambition: Nature's Market is poised to be more than just a convenience store serving the condo community above.
Its owners see the venture as an arts incubator, community kick starter and neighborhood watering hole. And so far, it's working.
"Houstonians are used to driving everywhere, but we have a lot of residential complexes around here, including these two towers," says Nina Jain, one of the project's three partners.
Health food serves as the concept's cornerstone, whether it be in the form of stevia sodas, on-tap olive oils or the roster of made-to-order sandwiches served on whole grain breads from Three Brothers Bakery.
"We have always been eating this stuff," says Jain, an avid vegetarian. "We're always looking for options that are healthy and that help the community. All three of us brainstormed for a long time, asking, 'How can we merge art, good food, grocery, community service and music?' And this is what we came up with." Environmentally-friendly household staples round out the foodie accoutrements.
Nature's Market's owners see the venture as an arts incubator, community kick starter and neighborhood watering hole. And so far, it's working.
Adding to the righteous atmosphere is the store's décor, which eschews plastic in favor of salvaged wood counters, reused wine bottle lamps and clay-based painted walls. And hanging on those walls are canvases by never-before-exhibited artists that the owners recruited via the Montrose Art Society.
Jain, owner Ganesh Krishnan and partner A.J. Bhokare are observing that when it comes to community engagement, one thing quickly leads to another. A kombucha tasting can introduce owners to artists, who in turn tip off a Broadway singer to sign on for an evening engagement that includes show-tune serenading while guests sip Hill Country cabernet selected by the in-house sommelier on the store's patio across the street from Hermann Park.
Rather than denying the property's location on the seam of the park and the Third Ward, the store's owners see value in the area's artistic heritage.
"The more we researched this place, the more we found out about the vibrant music history," Krishnan says. "Just two streets east is Dowling, which was the birthplace of the Houston jazz movement in the 20s and 30s. Art is written all over this area."
Nature's Market sounds like an urbanite's utopia, but the elephant in the bodega remains: Can small-scale, neighborhood-style grocery stores survive in Houston? Local instances like Byrd's, Midtown Market and JMH have all recently bit the dust — and that was without having to shrug off the mixed real estate reputation of the 29-story Mosaic (the developers of the building had to file for bankruptcy to avert foreclosure in 2009, before the current owners took over).
Still, the trio behind Nature's Market reports an enthusiastic response that's building on competitive prices, word of mouth buzz among Museum District locals and health-conscious patients staying in the Texas Medical Center. Bhokare says that the latter customer profile makes a beeline for the organic juice bar and orders the "anti-cancer" shot.
Nature's Market unabashedly oozes never-from-concentrate, local and organic optimism.