The Woolley Market

Building community around food

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sedro-Woolley, despite being surrounded by fertile Skagit Valley farmland, has never been known as a food town. Few restaurants and only a single grocery store have resulted in residents heading to Mount Vernon or even farther for shopping and dining. That’s beginning to change, thanks to a new business now anchoring the corner of Metcalf and State streets in the downtown core. The Woolley Market, which opened in the old JC Penney building in late July, has the air of a place that is already a community staple.

“Sedro-Woolley is a bit of a food desert,” said Will Honea, one of the market’s founders. “We grow all this great stuff around here, but there’s nowhere to buy it.” He, along with a group of friends and likeminded people, created the store to be a community gathering place as well as an outlet for local food producers. They took pains with the restoration, creating a bright, warm, welcoming space with a distinct 1920s vibe and lots of natural wood.

People used to visiting a community co-op or other natural food store will recognize many of the brands and products, from organic potato chips to sustainably caught tuna. One aisle is full of bulk bins, and a peanut butter grinder is due to arrive soon. Most of the produce is grown in Skagit Valley, and the cooler has local eggs and dairy, including raw milk. They carry fresh bread from Avenue and Breadfarm, plus gluten-free “ancient grains” products from Shambala Bakery.

The store hasn’t been open long, so there are some empty shelves, but each time I’ve visited new things have appeared. The meat case, though still sparsely populated, contains some enticing items like house-made chorizo, Tarheel sausage, steaks, local sockeye salmon and chicken breast. Organic beef from Skagit River Ranch is available frozen.

The deli, which stretches along one wall of the store, has a growing selection of pastries and an espresso station. They offer breakfast burritos and sandwiches in the mornings, and have recently been advertising biscuits with sausage gravy ($5.99). After 10:30am they begin serving lunch, which includes burritos, build-your own sandwiches, specialty sandwiches, and a varying lunch special. Food can be ordered to go or eaten in the dining area, at recycled wood tables or at the long counter that looks out onto Metcalf Street.

One day last week the lunch special was a plate of locally caught sockeye salmon with green beans and poached figs ($11.99), which I didn’t try but was obviously a huge hit with both staff and customers. On following days the salmon appeared with roasted corn and tomato salad, then mixed greens and mango salsa.

Specialty sandwiches include a very excellent Vietnamese banh mi ($8), with rich pork pate generously spread on a baguette with pickled vegetables, plus salad on the side. I picked up one of these to go, brought it home to share and my husband ended up eating the whole thing. The “Woolley Steak” sandwich ($9), on the other hand, was pleasant enough, with thinly sliced grilled steak, peppers and a little cheese on a crusty baguette. The flavors were good, but I would have liked more cheese or dressing.

I have not yet tried any of their “brick sandwiches,” which include a Cuban ($9), a tomato-mozzarella-pesto and a classic ham and cheese ($8 each). I have, however, tried a burrito stuffed with rice, beans and tender chunks of spiced pork ($7). The flavors were simple and good, and the burrito was dressed up with a sprinkle of fresh chopped vegetables on top and a side salad.

The deli doesn’t serve dinner, but after 5pm they do have a selection of small plates, including several kinds of chips and dip ($5-$6) and a plate of rotisserie chicken wings with blue cheese ($8). Besides coffee drinks, the deli offers several beers on tap, with a growler fill option. They also have kombucha by the pint or growler. Along with occasional live music in the evenings, they’re set up to be a perfect after-work spot for locals, as well as a great stop for anyone heading over the North Cascades or coming back from a mountain hike.

So far the store and deli seem to be a big hit with the Sedro-Woolley community, providing a much-needed gathering place. “It creates a center of gravity,” Honea said. “You’re building community around food.”

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