Former home of Lillians Natural Marketplace opens under new name

The nostalgia of an old-fashioned neighborhood market just opened its doors in the core of downtown Gresham. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The Central Market and Kitchen in downtown is open. It is located in the space previously inhabited by Lillians Market.

Central Market and Kitchen introduced its unique mix of specialty market and deli to customers Wednesday, June 12, after placing a simple blackboard outside the front doors proclaiming, “Welcome! We are open.” With its modern industrial décor, Central Market is reminiscent of corner stores where people once stopped to pick up fixins’ for what is known as antipasto-style meals.

“That’s how people like to eat anymore — real simple,” said Colleen Mendola, manager for Central Market and Kitchen on Northwest Third Street and Miller Avenue. “This is like going to the refrigerator and putting a meal together with what you find — a little cheese, olives, fresh bread, maybe some chicken. But we also wanted this to be a place where you can get your produce, have a sandwich or cup of coffee. We wanted to offer something for everyone.”

Mendola and her husband, Patrick, are hardly novices in the food service industry. Patrick was an accomplished chef in New York before the couple migrated west to the Eastmoreland area of Portland 18 years ago. They owned and operated the Tuscany Grill in Northwest Portland for 12 years, selling the restaurant in 2008 to open an organic neighborhood market nearer their home. But capitalizing on such a finite niche as organic foods wasn’t sustainable, Mendola said, and the market closed last October.

So when the opportunity arose to manage Central Market and Kitchen for Natural Food Associates, the Mendolas were all over it.

“It was a good match for us to come here because Gresham needed a good community-driven grocery store,” Mendola said. “We wanted to create a three-tier store, with products that are affordable, middle and high end. But we also believe in supporting local farmers and suppliers and doing things on-site. We grind our own beef every day, hand-butcher our meats and make all our own sauces.

“We hope to have our full kitchen up within the next month and then the deli cases will be full of homemade meatloaf, soups, chicken, lasagna — the list goes on and on.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jacob Valentine mans the deli at Central Market and Kitchen.

Central Market and Kitchen puts a new look to the classic neighborhood market/deli, where area residents once stopped on the way home from work to pick up everything from a bottle of wine and fresh flowers to homemade mozzarella and fresh produce. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Central Market and Kitchen orients itself toward people who want to cook. You won’t find name-brand products, but you will find imported pasta and sauces, hard-to-find specialty products and a great, made-to-order sandwich at the deli. Produce is partially organic but all locally grown and delivered. Try some of the fresh salad greens and you’ll never buy the pre-packaged stuff again.

“When you get your greens in a bag, you don’t know how long they’ve been in the bag,” Mendola said. “Our greens arrive already washed and ready to eat. You just fill a baggie yourself and take home fresh greens. It’s a great option.”

While the Mendolas aren’t hardcore organic food advocates, they are firm believers in supporting local farmers and growers. They plan to forge relationships with vendors at the Gresham Farmers Market, not only to provide them with a year-round outlet for their goods but to help keep their small businesses sustainable. Working jointly with the farmers market, Mendola said, also will embed Central Market and Kitchen in the community as a gathering place to learn something new.

“We plan to take people across the street to the farmers market and come back here for cooking demonstrations,” Mendola said. “We won’t be doing in-front-of-the-stove classes, but we will show them how to use what they buy to make something easy and good. I love how everybody works together in Gresham. People have been very welcoming to us.”

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