One Saturday afternoon in April, a farmhouse party blossomed in Frogtown, also known as Elysian Valley, the sliver of land in between the 5 freeway and the Los Angeles River, in celebration of Good Eggs L.A. Foodhub launch. Crowds sat on haystacks outside, amid rows of white tents sheltering local foodmakers. Inside, string lights and banderitas abounded while people milled throughout the cavernous 9,000-square feet of space that used to be a Hostess cupcake factory, tasting food grown and made mostly in Los Angeles.
It was a perfect weekend celebration, but for one missing ingredient. "I saw a very crowded street and a lot of unfamiliar faces," said Steve Appleton, Elysian Valley resident. "The list and those admitted free mostly came from Good Eggs clients who are very different from the core residential and artistic community of Elysian Valley."
He acknowledges Good Eggs L.A. did a lot of local outreach before the event, but the turnout only cemented the fact that Good Eggs L.A. needs to work harder to be truly part of their new community.
Launched by entrepreneurs Rob Spiro and Alon Salant February 2013, Good Eggs is an online marketplace for local food, rather like a culinary Etsy within your neighborhood. Rather than residents purchasing local products one at a time at farmer's markets or local shops, they can now log on to their accounts and buy a wide variety of local products including fruits, veggies, pastries, and even pre-made meals, which they either pick up or have delivered to their home. Since its inception last year, Good Eggs has expanded from its San Francisco origins out to Brooklyn, New Orleans, and Los Angeles, attracting conscientious consumers who'd like to support a local economy, while still preserving the convenience of their grocery habits.
Good Eggs L.A. was once headquartered in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles, but elected to move to Frogtown partly for convenience (the Foodhub is now close to the 5 freeway) and party for poetic justice. "It's ironic that we're now offering healthy food options in a old factory that served up these sugary snacks," said Meg Glasser, the Los Angeles Team lead. It also helped that landlords Frank and Jay Novak, co-founders of furniture retailer Modernica, also plan to attract other retail and food-related businesses to occupy the rest of 130,000-square-foot space.
The company's existence in the Los Angeles market is good for local foodmakers. According to Ken Grinde, who handles operations at Los Angeles, Good Eggs L.A. is now working with about 160 food producers, most of whom are headquartered in Los Angeles. Once customers place their order, an alert goes right to the producers, who can then prepare the items requested. At the end of the day, producers deliver these orders to the distribution center, to be packaged together with the rest of a customer's other requests. Then, the completed orders are either picked up or delivered to their final destinations. "Nothing stays more than four hours on average," said Grinde. Instead of stocking up on goods, every item that goes into the warehouse is essentially pre-sold. Good Eggs L.A. delivers as far north as Arcadia down to the beach in Santa Monica. Instead of working tirelessly to within a small geographical market, artisans can use Good Eggs L.A. to widen its distribution.
The question now is whether Good Eggs L.A. is able to stimulate the same benefit for its immediate neighborhood. Rick Cortez, founder and principal architect at RAC Design Build thinks the online venture is good for the community.
"My impression has been completely positive," wrote Cortez when asked for comment, "Their staff are really amazing civic-minded folks who have effected our little area with their river interests and community spirit. I think they are a fantastic neighbor here in Frogtown and by extension LA."
A brief conversation with Grinde and Jeff Hutchison of Good Eggs L.A. confirms this. Both are conversant about issues of mobility in Los Angeles, the growth and revitalization of the Los Angeles River, and they are eager to be part of it. Hutchison even expressed a willingness to move to Frogtown from Silver Lake, but was only hindered by the lack of rental homes in the area.
Apart from toying with the idea of one day having bike couriers use the Los Angeles River Bikeway while making deliveries, Grinde wonders if kayaking can be another viable option. The thought makes his eyes light up.
Since moving into their 9,000-square foot portion of the space, Good Eggs L.A. has been actively involving itself in the community, by attending number of neighborhood council and neighborhood watch meetings, as well as community events. Good Eggs was also present at the most recent L.A. River Clean-Up feeding hungry volunteers.
Enthusiasm and willingness to participate notwithstanding, perhaps the biggest issue Good Eggs L.A. will face integrating into the neighborhood is being able to offer products within the area's budget. Appleton acknowledges Good Eggs' effort in being part of a community, but he points out, "Structurally, this is a business that is challenged to actually connect to the lives of local residents for the pure fact that it's offering more than four times or more the prices of what people in the local neighborhood typically pay for their food."
Cortez too has had initial difficulties with Good Eggs' business model, but has since then become a supporter. "Once I wrapped my head around their locally sourced, quality foods, my opinion changed," wrote Cortez, "They have become coalescing force for the quality food culture, small food business and those interested in managed food systems."
Appleton agrees that Good Eggs is an ideal riverside business, especially because it is a clean operation that does not pollute the nearby waterways, but he wonders how the business can further fold the neighborhood into its growth strategy. "Another opportunity here is that of all the communities I've lived in, Elysian Valley has possibly the highest per capita of front yard gardens. I'm talking about gardeners who use their yards for food and have for a long time. How could that local knowledge and resource be brought into the mix? Would locals be willing to become part of a local grown network? Would Good Eggs be willing to bring folks into the fold by facilitating their participation and helping them gain certification?" These are the same issues Appleton raised in an earlier post on building a hyperlocal Los Angeles River economy. The answers to these questions will be what ultimately determine Good Eggs' value to the community.
For now though, Good Eggs seems to be taking things a step at a time, by first opening its doors to the neighborhood and a larger public, inviting others to discover Frogtown and the Los Angeles River, perhaps for the very first time. The distribution center will double as Good Eggs' event space. In the coming weeks, it plans to host a composting workshop headed by Hutchison and a vegan cooking class by Savour this Moment (https://www.facebook.com/savourthismoment). Becoming a good neighbor is a work of years, not months, time will tell if Good Eggs and other businesses that come into the neighborhood will be boons to its community.
Photos courtesy of Good Eggs L.A.
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