Imagine this. You’re buzzing through Dolores on your way to some overzealous high-elevation adventure you’ve schemed up on the very spine of Lizard Head Pass between Rico and Telluride. Realizing the two stale granola bars you threw in your pack four months ago are not going to cut it, you scan the horizon for options. John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High madly blaring through your car speakers, you spot an inconspicuous little grocery store and your salivary glands kick in. Veering to the right, you nab one of several open parking spots in front of a sign that reads “Dolores Food Market: Unexpected Gourmet®”
As your engine winds to a halt, you notice a 6’4” Scottish bear of a man who seems to be surveying the land like a king in front of his castle. He looks as though he’s been rooted there since time immemorial.
With just the tiniest bit of trepidation, you exit your car and move toward said Scottish bear. Half of you fully expects him to angrily turn you away like a centaur at the gate of some forbidden land; the other half wonders if he’ll eat you for a second breakfast. Gingerly you move toward him and he surprises you with a gruff, though bearishly warm, greeting. Danger averted and stomach beckoning, you sidle by him and pull open the glass doors of the market.
Gary, underground rock star and head cashier greets you with a warm smile as if you’re long lost friends. You wonder if maybe you are long-lost friends and you just forgot. You bask in his friendship-y friendliness for just a moment before another customer comes up behind you and moves you along so they can have their turn to bask in friendship-y friendliness with Gary. Life, unfair but honest, keeps on keeping it real.
Walking past stacks of gorgeously handmade sweet pies and an abundance of freshly baked cookies wrapped tightly on Styrofoam trays, you wander the isles, amazed at a paradox unfurling before your eyes. On a shelf near the front of the store, you find four different styles of Spam (including spreadable and chorizo-spiked) beckoning to you like sirens from a lost shore. Exactly two sashays to the left is a complete array of Annie’s organic dressings. Running a few laps through the store, your brain feels like it’s been dropped into The Grocery Matrix Reloaded. You wonder what kind of dietary haven dares stock both processed cheese singles AND raw sheep milk cheese from France that will run you $39.15/lb. Not believing this fairytale grocery store actually exists, you search for some diabolical line drawn down the middle of the store that would separate elite foodies from hard working single moms on a tight budget. There isn’t one. The shelves are a unified mix of Alive & Radiant ranch-flavored kale chips and Hot Cheetos Puffs, frozen corn dogs and fresh wild king salmon flown in from Seattle. It feels like a koan that you’ve solved without trying.
You feel a guilty pleasure swell up in you like some forbidden devilish delight. Time inexplicably passes and shopping amnesia overtakes you. When you regain consciousness, you are two aisles over staring at a cooler full of homemade savory potpies. Looking down at the shopping basket in your sweaty hands you notice two cans of Spam have been magically stacked in the corner along with a loaf of country white bread. JoAnn, the head baker, strolls by to inform you that there are turkey, veggie, beef and chicken potpies to choose from and yes, everything is made from scratch, including the gravy and the piecrusts. You pinch yourself.
Seeking the ever-elusive nutritional balance, you settle on a chicken potpie (for the post-alpine-ascent dinner celebration) with the addition of a ginger-flavored kombucha drink (gut health – check!) and a bag of local spinach.
On your way to the cashier you run into Linnea, the Scottish bear’s wife and co-owner of the store. Breathlessly, you ask her how all of this transpired. How did this magically unified grocery store come into existence? And shouldn’t we hold all future potentially divisive meetings here in the back corner by the deli? You imagine congenially passing around a platter of uncured, nitrate-free, hickory smoked bacon, veggie Boca burgers and Oscar Meyer bologna during contentious treaty talks. “To each their own!” you would all suddenly shout in unison as previously impossible collaborations manifested underneath the “Omaha Natural Angus” meat sign.
Linnea answers your question in understated tones by weaving you a true tale of her Midwestern grocery lineage. Her German grandfather, Al Route, owned the Ubet Grocery in Ubet, Wisconsin (population 9), from 1933 to 1969. Grandpa Al sold a diverse plethora of items in those days too – everything from bib overalls, kerosene and nose rings for bulls to pickled herring, pigs’ feet and peanuts. Area farming families would come from far and wide to stock up at Ubet Grocery and Grandpa Al was there for them, taking all their needs into account.
Something sinks into place inside of you like the last piece of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. You can almost feel the heart beating in the center of the store. A customer asking for pointers on the best barbecue sauces pulls Linnea away. You want to kiss her and tell her thank you for caring, but she’s busy and you are embarrassed by your love for her, for Gary, for JoAnn and for the big Scottish bear out front.
Your heart nearly bursting with gratitude and your stomach growling in anticipation, you stand in line waiting to purchase your goods from Gary. Sandwiched between a bald guy with a gray beard and a potbelly buying a half gallon of Meadow Gold Dairy Pure Milk and a young hipster buying a serving of free-range, shaved corned beef, you sing to yourself, “Take me home, country road, to the place where I belong!” And damn if you don’t belong. Damn if we all don’t belong at the crossroads of Spam and locally-sourced microgreens.