Edible Monterey Bay

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Staff of Life to Open Natural Food Store in Watsonville

July 28, 2018 – Social media was buzzing after a surprise announcement that Staff of Life Market—a Santa Cruz favorite for almost 50 years—is inking a deal to open a second store in Watsonville. Residents are already applauding, saying that a store dedicated to natural and organic foods has long been needed there.

Watsonville mayor pro tem Jimmy Dutra revealed on his Facebook page last week that the market will take over a space in the East Lake Village shopping center, where SuperMax Discount Foods closed in May.

Staff of Life co-owner Richard Josephson confirmed this week that the store was going forward, and anticipated signing a lease agreement in the next week or two with Oaktree Property Co., which manages the shopping center. The projected opening date is May 2019.

“ …all is moving ahead swimmingly in that regard,” Josephson said via email. 

Josephson said Oaktree “came to us with the proposal, out of the blue. We were impressed with their obvious intent to seriously upgrade the center. Not just with us as the anchor tenant, but with their desire (already beginning to be actualized) to both upgrade the physical plant, and the mix of tenants therein.”

He noted the addition of Fruition Brewing at the shopping center, a craft beer brewer which is slated to open this fall. He welcomed the owners’ willingness to change with the times.

“Watsonville is going through its own demographic changes as Santa Cruz becomes more and more expensive, pricing many out of the market, who now and will in future, call Watsonville home.”

“To be able to open a second store in South County is both an honor and a privilege.”

Josephson said that the size of the Watsonville store will be roughly the same as the Santa Cruz store, which is 23,000 square feet. “The only department which will not be moving to Watsonville is the bakery—though we do plan on bringing Staff baked goods south. We will be pulling out all the stops to truly replicate the Staff experience.”

Dutra wrote in an email, “We have been eagerly awaiting a store that will offer the healthy, organic and natural choices that they will be able to provide for our community,” Dutra writes. “(Staff of Life) will be joining Coffeeville, Fruition Brewery, Carmona’s BBQ and Sushi Qu to make this shopping center a regional hotspot for all.

“This is a new day for Watsonville and I only see our community continuing to move forward and grow from here.”

Josephson and Gary Bascou opened Staff of Life in 1969 in Santa Cruz, and the store has had just a single location since its beginning. The market moved in 2010 from its original store on Water Street to a larger facility practically across the street at 1266 Soquel Ave., which the company remodeled to meet green building standards and to offer a substantially larger store for customers with more services, including in-house bakery, butcher department, deli, and an open air café.

Future home of Staff of Life Market in Watsonville

The grocery store at East Lake Village is currently 18,000 square feet, but could be expanded to 25,000 square feet, according to a real estate listing on Loopnet. 

Shoppers from Aptos to Prunedale are also delighted with having a Staff of Life market nearby, because it’s an easier drive to Watsonville than it is to travel to natural foods stores in Santa Cruz or Monterey.

“Awesome! I am soooo excited!” writes Watsonville resident Dee Dee Zwerner Vargas in reply to Dutra’s Facebook announcement, just one of more than 150 comments on his page. “Diverse choices & healthy options are ABSOLUTELY what this area has needed.”

The announcement is another sign that the Watsonville food scene is changing rapidly and dramatically, and East Lake Village is on its way to becoming a vital hub. Edible Monterey Bay noted the shift in our fall 2017 feature story “Watsonville Awakening: Are hipster food and drink businesses making it the Brooklyn of the Monterey Bay?.” 

Other recent additions at the shopping center, in addition to Fruition Brewing, include family-owned and operated Coffeeville, which moved from Santa Cruz to the eastside Watsonville shopping center earlier this year, offering house-roasted single-origin coffees made in small batches. 

“We were thrilled to hear that Staff of Life is coming to Watsonville,” Tallula Preston, co-owner of Fruition Brewing, texted Monday. “Their organic and sustainable focus is in line with our philosophy around brewing, and we’re looking forward to having them as a neighbor.”

About the author

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Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about the environment, sustainable living and health for numerous publications and websites. She is the co-author of “Humbled: How California’s Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin.”