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Durham Co-op Market builds community through food

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Although the Durham Co-op Market has been open for only one year, it is already starting to make a huge difference in the Durham community. The market/cafe combo is not your typical grocery store/hot bar.

The co-op is a community-owned and community-focused grocery store and café dedicated to supporting local farms, selling locally made and organic products and supporting local jobs. According to their website, Durham co-p Market began through the efforts of folks in Durham who saw a need and were excited about the possibility of creating a grocery/market that focused on locally-produced food.

Despite its youth, the co-op already has several initiatives in place to foster a sense of community within Durham and to make local, organic food more accessible to all members of the community.

For example, a month or two after the market opened, the co-op started “Meatless Mondays,” hosted every Monday at the café’s hot bar from 4 to 8 p.m. During these times the co-op’s hot bar offers a completely vegan selection, with the price of the food being determined by pound.

“Meatless Mondays have developed a following, from vegans and meat-eaters alike,” said Laura Pyatt, the co-op’s marketing manager. “People will buy a bottle of wine and push tables together… it’s really become quite a big thing.”

The newest feature, however, is the “$3 Dinners” that the co-op is beginning to offer on every Thursday night, starting this week, from 4-8 p.m. For the price of three containers of microwave mac and cheese, the co-op offers local, organic food, and not to mention, an actual meal.

“We wanted to do a dinner that would really bring the whole community together,” said Leila Wolfrum, the co-op’s general manager. “It’s going to be a really family-friendly and delicious meal so we can bring in all our neighbors and have some fun together.”

With the low price tag, the co-op’s owners are hoping that the dinners will be appealing and affordable for everyone in the community, not just a certain demographic.

“Some co-ops have a reputation for being ‘exclusive’ or ‘hippy-dippy’ and we don’t want that; we want our co-op to be a place for the community to come together,” Pyatt said. “We want people to see that healthy, local food doesn’t have to be expensive.”

The menu for these dinners, which changes every week, also reflects this sentiment.

“We’ve developed a menu that every week will feature both a meat option and a vegan option,” Wolfrum said. “And they’re going to be family-friendly— not too spicy, not too out there— and we just hope everybody comes and enjoys.”

The first month of menus has already been posted on the co-op’s website, and it represents quite an eclectic mix of options. The first meal will consist of either turkey or vegan chili and cornbread, with upcoming weeks’ selections ranging from Carolina-style hot dogs to loaded baked potatoes— and each for $3.

“We’re about to post more menus; it’s not going to end in February,” Wolfrum said. “We’re going to hopefully continue serving the meals every Thursday from now until people stop liking cheap dinners.”

Even though this initiative has a huge potential to bring new community members into the Durham Co-op, the market is not stopping there in its community-building endeavors. The co-op already hosts brunch at its hot bar every Saturday and Sunday, but starting March 19, the co-op is revamping brunch to include live music and mimosas designed to increase the sense of community at the café.

“Durham is a diverse place,” Pyatt said. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to cater to only a specific part of the community… we’re hoping everyone will come, and that the $3 dinners will develop the same following as our Meatless Mondays; that people will push their tables together and use the time to enjoy each others’ company.”

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