Fresh Food and Local Spirit

Bodega: Fresh Food and Local Spirit from The State Press on Vimeo. Produced by Jessie Wardarski 

Bodega 420 is about community. The connectivity is made evident the moment you set eyes on the welcoming building and the area around it.

There is a makeshift swing hanging from a tree in the front yard and a porch that looks well broken in from its visitors.

Like many businesses on Roosevelt, Bodega is located in a house, and there is a very comforting vibe that makes you feel right at home.

There are regulars who come to buy weekly groceries, as well as visitors who simply come to just hangout.

“This area is about local businesses, it’s about uniqueness, local ownership and cooperation,” says owner Adrian Fontes.

Bodega has had its doors open for about a year and a half now, servicing the downtown area with much needed essentials; shoppers can find everything from fresh produce to hardware supplies.

“Everyone was always talking about how there’s no grocery or hardware stores downtown, the neighborhood was totally bereft of any of those services,” says Fontes, who is also a 1998 graduate of Arizona State University.

Downtown Phoenix is known for being a food desert. According to azcentral.com, food deserts are low-income areas where at least 20 percent of residents live in poverty and are more than a mile away from a grocery store that sells fresh, healthy produce.

Along with his wife, Mona, and business partner, John Sagasta, Fontes knew Bodega 420 wouldn't follow the typical business concept.

“We really formed the business idea around what people wanted in this particular neighborhood and we filled in the gaps,” Fontes says. “There was nowhere to buy a pack of cigarettes and most importantly there was nowhere to buy food.”

Bodega is able to sell a variety of fresh produce, including a large variety from local farms and producers.

“We grow some of our vegetables here in our garden, we had six different types of kale growing outside,” Fontes says. “We take out the middle man and give it right to the consumer.”

The Phoenix business also sells local and fair trade peanut butter, raw goat milk and cheese from a co-op in Tempe, and foods from Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company.

Upon entering the shop, your gaze will land on large quantities of dried chilies, quinoa and the glass shelves up front that hold an array of unique Mexican candies.

“This kind of community thing ... makes a lot more economic sense," Fontes says. "If you are doing it right and providing a service to the folks who need it, you will do well.”

Local Phoenix resident Luckie Cunningham is one of the regulars at Bodega, and it is instantly obvious she has a great rapport with owner Fontes.

“For awhile I didn’t have a steady income," she says. "Bodega was able to help me out so I was able to get groceries and have a tab here that I could pay later.”

Fontes greets Cunningham like an old friend when she walks into the store, making small talk while Cunningham purchases her usual pack of cigarettes.

“Now that I have a steady job, they know I’m going to pay it off. It really has helped me out for the past six months,” Cunningham says. “It is a family-community... Bodega and the entire area.”

Fontes is also an attorney and former United States Marine. He is a strong advocate for the people of his community and helping those in need.

“We want this to be somewhere where people can just come to hangout; I would love for this area to be downtown’s backyard,” Fontes says. “There is no pretense or fancy cars, and we don’t need that. Who really needs that stuff.”

Every Wednesday night is Fontes's weekly shift at Bodega. You can often catch him relaxing on the porch with friends, and later in the night playing music outside.

“I’ll come out here and play my guitar, it’s grown into this crazy social thing,” Fontes says. “People will come out and listen to music. We started a band here that’s actually gone out and played gigs.”

Fontes and friend Brigitte Jordan sit on the porch during Fontes's shift. The workday is over and it is time to enjoy a smoke and maybe a little tequila.

“I started going to a coffee shop, Jobot, and every morning there was the same three or four people there,” Jordan says. “We would naturally sort of be there and that’s how I got to know (Fontes), just through my coffee every morning.”

Jordan is a 9-5er, having previously worked for the mayor and on different community projects.

“It’s really a conscience choice where you want to spend your money and time at the end of the day,” says Jordan while she takes a drag of her cigarette. “His store was just a natural place for me to stop by on my way home, it is a nice place to decompress from the day.”

It is easy to stop by Bodega and end up staying far past the usual grocery pit stop. This place is buzzing, even for the teenage boy who came inside just to play the arcade game.

“You just have to trust people, you just got to let go. Your business is yours but it also belongs to the people,” Fontes explains. “The idea of ownership and the idea of community has to be there otherwise you are not being genuine.”

Reach the writer at marilyn.napier@asu.edu and the producer at jwardars@asu.edu or via Twitter @JKayWardarski

 


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