Friday, December 15 , 2017, 12:13 pm | Smoke 73º


Judy Foreman: Roxy and Michael Lawler Breathe New Life into Montecito Village Grocery

Couple’s plans for neighborhood market include new selections and remodeled look but same convenient, pleasant experience for loyal locals


Local merchants add so much to the daily life of the community they serve, and they make living in our small town easy and special.

I love to share good news, and the latest comes from the Montecito Village Grocery. Long a staple of the grab-and-go crowd and last-minute emergencies, some shopping carts were often filled with only alcohol, cheese and crackers — but that’s all changing.

As recently reported in Noozhawk, Roxy and Michael Lawler are the new proprietors of the Upper Village market at 1482 East Valley Road. Hardly novices in the business, the couple already own two other grocery stores in beautiful, upscale communities — one in Aspen, Colo., and the other in Big Sky, Mont., and both under the Roxy’s Market & Café brand.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Roxy moved to San Francisco after graduating from New York University. It was there that she met Michael, a San Francisco native who has 20-plus years in the wholesale and retail food service industry.

The couple started a family (two daughters) and later moved to Telluride, Colo., when the girls were young. In 2005, they opened a state-of-the-art grocery store, The Market at Mountain Village, which they sold off in 2008.

How they found their way to Montecito, and a third store, was the result of a visit to see their youngest daughter, Chelsea, who graduated from the since-closed Brooks Institute of Photography and now works as their assistant and high-tech website guru.

“We knew immediately it was the perfect coastal community and complemented our mountain lifestyle beautifully,” Roxy told me.

“We gravitated to Montecito because we were comfortable in a smaller ‘village’ community, having spent 24 years in small ski resort towns. To find such a special place with both mountains and the ocean were the best of both worlds.”

Learning what “we” the customers can look forward to was foremost on my mind. Roxy, an energetic merchant, is putting into motion a complete overhaul of the market. Some changes will be immediate, and many larger and more comprehensive will take place over the next 12 to 18 months.

A big change will involve incorporating unused space in the back of the store and installing a commercial kitchen where none exists. The Lawlers hope the public will be patient as they begin remodeling the 10,000-square-foot store.

Rest easy. One thing that won’t change is the presence of butcher Tony Perocco, a much loved fixture and hometown guy. The familiar and sometimes serious face behind the counter culture of the little market’s meat, fish, chicken and prepared food section since 1980 is moving forward with the new owners.

The Lawlers’ immediate goals include consistently offering top-quality, local, organic produce and improved product selection. They’ve installed new freezers, and are adding a soup station and an upgraded coffee bar.

Thanks to the addition of chef Luis Gonzalez, the market is offering more prepared meals and grab-and-go healthy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Montecito Village Grocery will be adding a large selection of gluten-free, vegan and specialty options. With Perocco’s help, the market will continue to provide the best meat and fish around.

And the store is known for its top-notch wine selection, which features mostly regional small vintners along with a great selection of the French and Italian options that are poured in many of Santa Barbara’s best restaurants.

The Lawlers have found Montecito to be warm and welcoming, and they’ve been getting plenty of suggestions from customers. I call this the Montecito welcoming committee — LOL — but they’ve embraced it and prominently display a suggestion box at the front of the store.

The store still offers discounts for seniors and civil servants on certain days of the week, which are posted on their folksy chalkboards.

The No. 1 goal, of course, is providing excellent customer service in the intimate village setting. The store doesn’t just serve local residents; it’s long been popular with lunchtime contractors. It may be a tall order, but the Lawlers are determined to have choices at different price points.

Thinking about the bottom line, I was curious about the Lawlers’ strategy to compete with other area grocery stores.

“Produce is the most challenging piece of the puzzle,” Roxy explained. “We’ve decided to focus on organic and local as much as possible. As a small independent store, we can’t compete with the big chain stores’ buying power, but our pricing is as competitive as possible.”

A convenient, pleasant shopping experience is something on which the Lawlers pride themselves at all of their markets.

“We have easy access with lots of parking and the good old neighborhood feeling,” Roxy said.

Montecito Village Grocery is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Click here for more information, or call 805.969.1112.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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