Can an overgrown corner lot in an industrial midtown neighborhood be reborn as a grocery store with a working cooperative business model? And would the store succeed in offering high quality food at affordable prices?

BJ Pheiffer thinks so. Her left wrist dripping with silver bracelets and her eyes sparkling with excitement, Pheiffer stood Sunday in front of a crowd of about 50 (most of them over the age of 50) to introduce a free cooking lecture by area chefs and to talk about the project she’s raising money for and interest in. Greenhouse Grocery’s board of directors, of which she is president, has its eyes on the former location of Santa Fe Greenhouses, a 4.8-acre lots at the corner of Rufina Circle and Rufina Street. 

The operation that shuttered in 2012 after 29 years could be the perfect place to first open a grocery store and then follow up with greenhouse food production, says Pheiffer, who moved to Santa Fe from California’s Napa Valley five years ago. 

With a background in startup technology businesses, market strategy, the securities trade industry and banking as well as catering and working as a personal chef, Pheiffer breathlessly explains her plan for the 10,000 square-foot store. Negotiating the greenhouse purchase is the next critical step, she says in an interview. 

“Without a business model that works, it’s all a pipe dream…I’m clearly not a hippie, which doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a hippie or that we don’t like hippies,” she says, “but I’m a businesswoman who really wants to, at this stage of my life, bring something of value.” 

Real estate agent Philip Gudwin says the possibility of the co-op buying the land is exciting, but notes that the property isn’t under contract and that other potential buyers have expressed interest.  

Pheiffer says about half of the 400 members needed to make the startup viable have already made refundable $100 investments to join in the co-op, and others have invested much bigger sums toward the land purchase. 

Greenhouse Grocery would be what’s known as a “working co-op.” Only members would be able to shop there and members would also have to put in two three-hour shifts per month on tasks that range from checkout clerk to shelf stocker. Members would also see 20 percent patronage checks based on their spending each year.  

Such a venue would differ from La Moñtanita Co-op on the north side in the Solana Shopping Center, which charges $15 per year for members who receive coupons every month as well as annual patronage checks, but who don’t have to work at the store. That store also allows nonmembers to shop. Yet Pheiffer already has a cast of culinary thousands in her corner, including Deborah Madison, a Galisteo resident who has also authored some 14 cookbooks, Rocky Durham, founder of the Santa Fe Culinary Academy, and Kim Müller, chef at Izanami. While they are all looking forward to the new venture, the chefs gave Sunday attendees some useful tips about where to shop, what to buy and what to do with it after you make a purchase:

  • Trader Joe’s sells a great California olive oil produced from early high density olives that runs about $6 a bottle, and a rich Loriva brand roasted peanut oil can be found at the Eldorado Supermart, Madison says.
  • Lack of salt can really bring down a dish, says Müller. And most table salt is depleted of all the minerals that make it tasty. Check out places like Ross and TJ Maxx, which sometimes have great specialty salts, she says, holding up a large container of Himalayan rock salt that she scored for five bucks. 

Three other free lectures are planned: May 10, Food as Medicine with Vasant Lad, professor and director of the Ayurvedic Institute; May 25, Sustainability in Kitchens, Erin O’Neill, High Desert Gardner; June 29, Cooking the Cuts, Laurie Bower, Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance. 

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