Pacific Produce, the new Asian marketplace at 27th & Grange in Greenfield, opened 2 weeks ago to little fanfare and publicity. Given the hype that a new Sendik’s or Metro Market generates, I am surprised at the lack of local media coverage. Then again they probably don’t have a pr or marketing department.
Let me start by saying that as a grocery store I like the place a lot. The quantity an variety of the Asian products is unparalleled anywhere in Wisconsin. You name it, they have it. Hundreds of varieties of soy sauce, chili pastes, soup bases, canned mushrooms, noodles, and vegetables. More frozen seafood and prepared Asian meals than you could ever imagine. The fresh produce department is amazing and has very good prices (where else can you find Watercress at 75 cents a bunch?) If you want offal or decently priced seafood, its probably one of the best places in Milwaukee to get it. Tongue, tripe, tendon, pork belly, oxtail, and kidneys, they have it and most of it is fresh (some is frozen). The prices and variety of Asian cooking equipment is incredible too. Bowls, steamers, strainers, tea sets, cookware, and cutlery of all shapes and sizes can be found in two separate areas of the store. They also carry a bunch of Kiwi knives, which have achieved cult-like following among those seeking a cheap (think 3-8 dollars) sharp, and reliable kitchen knife.
However as a true shopping destination the store falls flat. The store feels cold (actually its temperature cold in there too) and impersonal. It reminds me of the old Pick N’ Save Warehouse Foods before they became fancy and overpriced. The space is poorly utilized as well, particularly the counter service restaurant layout and placement (more on this later). I guess I just thought this could have been so much more than it is and its kind of disappointing not for what it is, but for what it could have been. In order for it to survive its going to need support of the entire foodie community, not just Milwaukee area Asians, which is what makes its lack of personalty even more troubling. I’d recommend taking a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights to see what this could have been. While Mitsuwa tends to focus on Japanese foods, taking design and space use queues from Mitsuwa would have resulted in a better shopping and dining experience and really made this place incredible.
There are two counter-service restaurants in the back of the store and space for another. They are hidden in a hallway corridor with a couple of booths where you can eat your food. In other words, these two restaurants are in an area typically reserved for janitor’s closets and customer restrooms. The Banh Mi restaurant (Banh Mi Nhu Y) opened with the store and the Thai place shortly after. Both of their spaces also seem cold and impersonal despite the warm and friendly people working at them. They should have set up these stands in a “food court” sort of way and had the seating out in the store to liven it up. If not for a tiny stand with a hand written sign you would never know that there is a Thai restaurant down this corridor. Don’t let that deter you. The sandwiches at Banh Mi Nhu Y are inexpensive and tasty. I have yet to try the Thai place but I’ll report back when I do.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the new store and I’ll shop there very often. I just see the missed potential and wish they would have had a more thoughful and welcoming floorplan. Don’t let that deter you though because there is nowhere in the area like Pacific Prodice.
Pacific Produce is located at 5455 S. 27th St. in Greenfield. It is adjacent to Pho Viet, a great new Vietnamese restaurant, which I reviewed here and the Journal reviewed here.