The corner store -- that neighborhood purveyor of Bud Light and Flamin' Hot Cheetos -- is about to turn a corner. On Monday, Union Kitchen founders Jonas Singer and Cullen Gilchrist will open Union Kitchen Grocery at 538 Third St. NE, their effort to reboot the idea of a local mini-mart. Instead of rows of processed junk foods, they'll offer fresh produce, local products and a variety of goods produced by their nearby culinary incubator. If all goes well, you'll be seeing more Union Kitchen Groceries on corners around the city.
"We see corner stores all over the city, and we see neighborhoods that want a little more out of their corner stores," said Gilchrist. "I think there’s space for more to exist there. Local doesn’t need to be special, local should be in our corner stores. It should not just be in the specialty stores, not just in Whole Foods."
Union Kitchen Grocery, which replaces the corner store Martin's Market, aims to have a little bit of everything. There will be local, seasonal produce from Smucker Farms and Coastal Sunbelt, and neighbors can sign up for CSA boxes to be delivered to the store. They'll also offer non-seasonal staples, like potatoes and onions. They'll also be working with DC Central Kitchen's Healthy Corners program, which provides low-cost produce to corner stores.
Naturally, there will be chocolates, pastries and beverages from Union Kitchen members -- at least 150 products from the incubator will be offered in the store, facilitated by Union Kitchen's own distribution system.
"Jonas keeps saying [to members], 'Make it, move it, sell it,'" said Gilchrist.
But it won't just be twee artisanal caramels and organic dog treats. Union Kitchen Grocery will have kombucha, yes, but it will also carry Coca-Cola products and potato chips and "All the normal things you’d see at a grocery store," said Gilchrist. When they get their liquor license, they'll carry beer and wine.
Union Kitchen Grocery will also serve as a breakfast and lunch counter, with a sandwich menu similar to the pair's Blind Dog Cafe. You can expect bacon-and-goat cheese or pimento-and-egg croissant sandwiches in the mornings, paired with Compass Coffee. Lunch brings an expanded menu of sandwiches and salads. Beginning in June, they'll serve to-go dinners -- roast chicken, sides, and other family-friendly fare that may potentially expand to include theme nights. The store has a small amount of indoor and patio seating for guests who stick around.
The concept serves as a trial for Union Kitchen's eventual store and cafe in Ivy City, where they're expanding their incubator later this year. They're also open to feedback from neighbors, and have been going door-to-door soliciting suggestions for products. And they're in the midst of getting a working garden up and running, where they'll grow herbs to use in the cafe.
"Being a corner grocery, it really is about the neighborhood," said Gilchrist.
Union Kitchen Grocery, 538 Third St. NE (Metro: Union Station). Opens Monday, May 4.