Fresh Fields offers a power lunch for D.C.’s cabbies.
The rooftop parking deck at the P Street Fresh Fields usually looks like a foreign- car dealership: a whole lot of late-model Honda Accords and SUVs, and a generous sprinkling of BMWs and Mercedeses. But starting around lunchtime each weekday afternoon, the Ford Crown Victorias take over.
There are plenty of Chevy Caprices in the mix, too, and a few Lincoln Town Cars. They come from Diamond Cab Co., World Cab Association, Orange Cab Co., Globe Cab Co., and Silver Cab Co. There are white ones, yellow ones, silver ones, and two-toned ones—stacked up sometimes five in a row, crowding the east side of the lot.
When it opened at 1440 P St. NW a year and a half ago, the natural-food retailer was supposed to provide a new destination for status-shopping urbanites, reviving a formerly forlorn commercial strip on the northern edge of downtown. And the presence of five-minute wine chillers and free-range poultry has brought the expected results: The P Street Metro Supermarket across the street, hawking pigs’ feet and 2-liter bottles of Coca-Cola, closed its doors within a year; luxury condominiums, priced up to $900,000, rise next to the abandoned property.
But the new market has also gentrified the daily routine of dozens of D.C. cabbies, who now throng to the organic-foods mecca in Logan Circle.
“Sometimes there are maybe 40 or 50 cabs here,” says Getachew Kidane, standing a few feet from his U.S.A. Cab Association Crown Vic on the upper parking deck on a Friday afternoon. He’s out in the sunshine, chewing the fat with his friend, who drives a Bell cab. In the slow hours of the early afternoon, Fresh Fields has become a place the cabbies say they meet and eat, their equivalent of the K Street crowd’s Vidalia or Palm.
“The majority of cabdrivers don’t have [health] insurance, so they need to eat healthy food,” explains Befekadu Shiferaw, passing Kidane while walking back to his World Cab. “We stay healthy by eating healthy food.”
Kidane says that he usually dines on the vegetables and soups available at the store’s self-service hot-food and salad bar. A fellow cabbie, who gives his name only as Tekle, admits to a jones for Fresh Fields’ curry chicken.
On a Monday afternoon, in the supermarket’s juice bar, cabbies occupy three of four tables and much of the counter space along the window. This is the slow time for the supermarket, too. As drivers head down the stairs from the parking deck and into the market, most speed toward the prepared-food aisle. They brake at the salad bar, where they pick up a plastic container, carefully survey the day’s offerings, and make their selections.
The market’s cabbie customer base includes a high proportion of East Africans. Before Fresh Fields brought arugula and Asian spiced tofu to the neighborhood, Ethiopian drivers such as Shiferaw used to power-lunch at the various Ethiopian restaurants in Adams Morgan and on the U Street corridor.
There’s only one problem with those places: parking. But Fresh Fields offers two levels of spaces for customers and ample time to linger. It’s a rare amenity in downtown’s inhospitable parking climate—the taxi equivalent of a giveaway sample of Emmenthaler or turkey sausage. “You get two hours’ free parking,” says Shiferaw. “You don’t have to pay the meters, so that’s more money for the food.”
The hackers also praise the quick and friendly service they receive, and Fresh Fields higher-ups generally return the warm feelings. “They’re completely welcome….It’s common in our store to have groups gather,” comments Sarah Kenney, mid-Atlantic director of marketing for Whole Foods Market, which is Fresh Fields’ corporate parent. “They add a different element.”
Shiferaw reaches into his pocket, takes out his wallet, and whips out his Whole Foods “team member” card. Shiferaw’s wife works at the Fresh Fields in Georgetown, entitling him to a discount on all his purchases. “I get the red-carpet treatment here,” he laughs.
He says that he prefers the P Street store to the Georgetown one, because it provides a better staging area to prepare for the afternoon rush. “This is very convenient to downtown, very good for cabdrivers,” Shiferaw says.
In exchange for that convenience, Fresh Fields is getting an unexpected set of consumers. “It’s a little more modern than doughnuts and coffee—instead they have Jamba Juice,” says Kenney.
So do the protein-enhanced fruit smoothies help the cabbies power-prowl for fares?
“No, not really,” admits Shiferaw. CP