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The Suburbanite
  • Canton grocery offers alternatives to shoppers

  • Last year, Don Caster and his wife, Paulette, launched the new Canton Raisin Rack, the size of a full-service grocery.

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  • Grocery shopping is one of those routine tasks. Then there’s Raisin Rack, a surprise on every aisle.
    You don’t need to buy anything to get food fascinated there, fast. The local company’s new store on Cleveland Avenue NW is exclusively organic foods. They stock items found in no other local stores.
    When Don Caster and his wife, Paulette, founded the business in 1978, it fit in a small house-size shop nearby. That was the beginning of the commercial organic movement. They opened a second store near Columbus in 1982.
    Last year, they launched the new Canton Raisin Rack, the size of a full-service grocery.
    It’s spotless and smartly organized. Wide aisles make for relaxed shopping even when the parking lot is full.
    Customers find many items from Ohio sources, says Manager John Marculli. Included are pastries from Kathy’s Creations in Alliance. Check out the shortbread.
    “Our customers are interesting. They demand the full service. They are highly educated and know a lot about natural foods from the Internet and Dr. Oz,” Marculli said.
    The Aquinas High School grad got his start at the old Edwards store on 30th Street, one of the first warehouse-concept groceries and far ahead of Costco or Sam’s Club.
    The store was a mess with boxes everywhere. It forced shoppers to buy cases for the best price. He soon learned that chaos marketing and food do not mix.
    His 30 Raisin Rack employees while doing the usual jobs of stocking and checking are engaging and know a lot about what they are selling. Have a gluten problem? They not only direct you to that department, they offer suggestions.
    A must stop is the Super Food Bar, prepared locally. For $7.99 a pound, you can build a super salad, including Tokyo seaweed, marinated Tuscany beans, tabouli and stuffed grape leaves.
    The Falafel (fah-LAF-el) vegetarian sandwich, a hit at New York City sidewalk carts, is there at $4.19. That’s half the price in restaurants.
    For those who cannot wait, the store includes a seating area next to a kitchen turning out vegan, gluten free and regular soups, including a bean chili.
    Bread bakers will swoon over the selection of custom flours and grains. Steel-cut oats, wheat berries, oat groats and many others are at bulk prices. You buy only what you need.
    The homemade nut butters beckon snackers, in almond and cashew. The guiltless chips look hand produced. The beverages include exotics with tropical names.
    Note: There’s no Pepsi or Coke and none of the familiar major food processors such as Kraft, Heinz or Lays. Raisin Rack remains true to its natural-foods only discipline. That means no preservatives or food chemicals, but that adds a challenge.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We must turn around organics fast, so it’s always very fresh,” Marculli said.
    Organics once were priced at 30 percent over standard items. The industry is growing, and competition has narrowed that. Raisin Rack offers many discounts including its coupons available online.
    “The fastest-growing category has been fruits and vegetables, but meats from safe sources (no antibiotics or growth hormones) and prepared foods are catching up,” he said.
    As we left, we spied jars of tomato sauce on an aisle cap at two for $6. It was made with vodka. Make that organic vodka. Where else could you find this?
    THE FALAFEL SANDWICH
    This “lunch in one hand” began in Egypt, a pita pocket flatbread filled with chopped vegetables, hummus and a dressing such as the torrid harissa. The falafel of the original is a baked or deep-fried patty or balls of ground garbanzo or fava beans. Arabic-speaking Christians invented the food as a meat substitute during Lent. It’s become a trend setter in many large American cities.
    FALAFEL
    2 cups garbanzo beans, cooked
    1/3 cup water
    1 slice wheat bread, crustless,  torn into pieces
    1  tablespoon flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 egg white
    2 tablespoons fresh parsley,  chopped
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
    1/2 teaspoon turmeric
    1/4 teaspoon each cumin, basil, marjoram
    1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste) or olive oil
    Cayenne pepper or pepper sauce, to taste   
       Puree the garbanzos in a food processor or blender. Add remaining ingredients, except the flour and mix well. Form into 1-inch balls or patties and coat with flour. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Or deep dry until golden.
      To make a falafel sandwich, cut a piece of pita bread in half and put two or three falafel balls or patties into open halves. Add lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, sliced tomatoes, green onions and yogurt or tahini dressing.
     Serves four.
    DEFINITIONS
    Organic food: Food produced without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They are not processed using irradiation or industrial solvents to sterilize or chemical food additives.
    Vegetarian: Abstaining from eating meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal out of respect for life or religious philosophy. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs but not dairy products, a lacto-vegetarian includes dairy products but not eggs.
    Vegan: A strict form of vegetarianism that eliminates all animal products from the diet including eggs and dairy products. An ethical vegan excludes animals for any purpose including shoe leather and wigs. An environmental vegan believes farming of animals is environmentally damaging.
    Gluten: A protein staple found in wheat, barley and rye but not corn, rice or oats. Gluten sensitivity includes celiac disease and wheat allergy including bone and joint pain, intestinal upsets and bloating. A gluten-free diet is the only acceptable way to treat the problems. Foods labeled “gluten free” contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Celiac disease occurs  in less than 1 percent of the U.S population.