Matt Miner is the kind of cultural chameleon that has come to define Columbus.
With equal parts experience on metal and punk stages as in the food industry, he’s the perfect new addition to the North Market—a building itself adjusting to a rapidly evolving city and its cultural and culinary needs.
His new “bodega-style” produce market, Mini-Super, is a natural extension of his two decades in produce (Wild Oats, Whole Foods), even if the skateboarder-turned-supermarketer saw himself doing more shredding than stacking back when he moved here from Marietta.
You’ve been in this industry 20 years. What ways are we approaching produce differently than in the past? How does that play into your approach at Mini-Super?
Urban America is much more food-conscious than it was 20 years ago. Foodie culture did not exist when I got into this business. I doubt I had even eaten an avocado in 1998. Now every kiddo eats avocados from birth. That being said, since healthy eating has been vogue, produce and natural foods has become more specialized and artisan. How many farmers markets are raging across America every weekend? With Mini-Super I try to tap into that world by buying from those unique growers, then presenting it in my own way.
Why do we have so few of the mini markets you see in other countries or larger cities? That bodega-style way of shopping is so appealing to me, but it’s frustrating you can find them in places like German Village, OTE, etc.
Columbus is still coming into its own as a bigger city. We seem to be embracing the growth now. Hopefully we will see some fresh produce on the streets in those areas soon to counter all of the plastic developments popping up all over town.
How important is visual merchandising in a business like yours? I know America gets a bad rap for valuing aesthetic beauty so much that some perfectly good produce never makes the shelves. Then again, you still need to sell product, lest it find a similar fate in the bin. How do you balance that? Or does it matter?
Visual merchandising is massive in this business. How do you make it look sexy? I fashion police every grocery store I’ve ever stepped foot in! Abundance sells produce, but on the flipside of that coin, it creates waste. I have to walk that line to stay afloat, but I designed the space to maximize visual impact and minimize waste. It’s working out so far. Mini-Super also gets support from a few restaurants around the area, [who] buy our produce before it turns.
I feel like the best way to buy produce is to try to buy for single meals, considering how much we all end up letting a tomato or a pepper go bad sitting around on a counter somewhere. How do you shop for produce?
I kinda let the produce talk to me. Whatever I want to try at the time. I’m not a big meal planner or recipe follower—I just wing it. When I buy for the shop, it’s seasonally focused but I’m always trying to source the most interesting stuff I can. There is always room on the shelves for something weird.
Is that mentality part of what you want to encourage with the bodega-inspired market?
Absolutely. Mini-Super is more of a these are our offerings spot as opposed to we try to have everything.
What are the unique challenges of being one of the true “markets” in a place that has moved, in some ways, more toward a food court model?
Trying to figure out what the convention traffic wants to buy. The volleyball convention digs Mini-Super more than the Dungeons and Dragons convention.
Columbus has changed a lot in the last 20–actually 10—years. Where do you think we’re headed, from a food production/consumer standpoint?
It certainly would be nice to see more restaurants in Clintonville, OTE, Linden and South of I-70! Seems like there are alot of opportunities in those neighborhoods. Certainly more farmer’s market and CSA action going on. I would like to eat a roti sandwich in Columbus, but I’ll keep dreaming.
Can you tell us some of your favorite chefs/restaurants in town? Maybe even the ones you feel make good and inventive use of fresh produce in town? Are some of them your customers?
Sean at Brassica is great. I really admire his dedication to his craft. I think he said he made 30 different hummus varieties before he settled on his recipe. That’s nuts! Steve Nicholson at Flatiron is an old friend and BBQ master. Everything at Flatiron is killer. If I need cooking advice, I text him. Perrie Wilkof from Dough Mama has the the best breakfast around. Proud to say they all shop at Mini-Super!
Okay: a weird one. Let’s play free association. A handful of your go-to fruits/vegetables and your favorite albums that best represent them…
Melvins’ Bullhead is one of the best records ever and features a technicolor fruit basket on the cover. And those are honeycrisp apples in that basket. I always associate mangos with reggae music so Burning Spear, by Marcus Garvey, my favorite roots reggae album on the Mango Label. CAN’s Ege Byamyasi has a picture of okra on the cover and features the robot-funk classic “Vitamin C.” That’s my Joint! Okra is OK, too.
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