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DeKalb Fresh Market strives to serve all taste buds

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The DeKalb Fresh Market grocery store opened in November and when customers first walk in, they’ll notice the produce is laid out in neat piles in a rainbow of colors. There’s purple cabbage, carrots, nopales or cactus pads and banana peppers propped up under display lights.

But store owner Martin Garcia said it’s not the produce that is the main attraction.

Instead, he said the butcher shop is the cornerstone and his entryway to the grocery store business.

“It gives us the assurance,” he said, “that allows us to incorporate other foods, to begin to learn about produce.”

Garcia said he first began to learn about cuts of meat when working at a slaughterhouse when he was 15 years old.

“And so, when someone shows you a cut of meat that you request,” he explained, “you know exactly where it came from. You know the origin and that’s very important.”

He said while he has a lot of experience in meat, his roots are in agriculture. His father cultivated various crops including sugar cane and tomatoes in Mexico.

He said the process for growing crops serves a useful metaphor for starting a business.

“You first begin to prepare the land, you plant the seed, take care of its growth, until the day that you harvest it,” he said.

And then, he added, you start to see the fruits of your labor.

Garcia later as an adult immigrated to the U.S. and held various meatpacking jobs. Eventually, he began assisting in wholesale purchasing, until he felt confident to launch his own store.

“There comes a time,” he said, “based on the need and the motivation to not only have a plate at the table, but to share with your community what you’ve learned and what you know.”

On a Friday, just before the weekend rush, Garcia is dividing his time between two stores.

When asked how he’s doing, he said “We have life, we have health, the rest is purely profit.”

Garcia also owns Paraiso Minimarket, which he opened 13 years ago.

“I always tell the many people who know of the smaller store,” he said, “’that store is the mother of this one.’”

The DeKalb Fresh Market is located a few blocks from Lincoln Highway, the city’s main street. The building was previously zoned industrial and he said city officials were very helpful throughout the whole process of rezoning the site.

“We’re really grateful for the help they’ve given us, first of all,” he said. “We give thanks to God for giving us life and the strength to be here. And so now as a team, we're working the best we can with what we have in our hands.”

Recently the store was awarded $25,000 of TIF funds to cover some of the costs in the upgrade of the building.

Paulina is the owner’s wife and helps run the business. While the shelves look full, she said they’re always adding new products as customers make requests.

“We try to give the people the very best, to have the basics available for them," she said. “And if we don’t have it, we’ll order it.”

The store carries a selection of dried peppers, spices, and other items that reflect the food preferences of Mexican and Latino families.

Also, the store has items that you’ll find at any grocery store. That’s important for Garcia who said they strive to serve everyone’s taste.

“Folks from other cultures also eat beans,” he said. “We eat tacos, tortas, burritos, which is what we have. If it’s a matter of delicious apples, some vegetables, fruits, greens -- we try to provide the freshest items. And so, it’s a general focus for the whole community.”

The grocery store includes a restaurant, and a snack shop featuring ice cream, corn in a cup, and sweet drinks. You’ll also find Tus Amigos Bakery where they make in-house a variety of pastries and cakes.

The meat selection is the draw for one customer named Scott.

“I’m here twice a week,” he said.

In his basket he had about a pound of chopped beef coated in seasoning, mixed with chopped onions, and red and green bell peppers.

“It’s just very good, it's good quality,” Scott said.

And that’s just what Garcia wants to hear.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.