Saturday, September 1, 2007

Megan Ramey’s MoCo Makes Willy Street Go-go

By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
Brava magazine, September 2007
Column: Around the Table

Recipe: Stuffed Olive Whipped Cream Cheese

Who would think a new convenience would be something a foodie could get excited about? Forget any associations you might have with sterile atmosphere, flat lighting and stale Pop-Tarts. 30-year-old Megan Ramey calls MoCo Market, which she opened this spring on Williamson Street, a “lifestyle store.”

Ramey’s brainchild is a bold reinterpretation of the classic quickie mart that integrates environmental and employee sustainability, commitment to community, and gorgeous design. The luxurious, dark-stained flooring is fast-renewing bamboo; the paint is non-toxic; there’s furniture and paneling made from reclaimed wood. Upscale offerings include alternative magazines, microbrew beers, a rotating selection of international and regional wines, fruit sushi, organics, locally raised bacon. There’s whole-bean Anodyne Coffee, roasted in Milwaukee, and a beverage cooler featuring exotic offerings like bottled kombucha tea and Coca-Cola, aesthetically bottled in old-fashioned chunky green glass.

Even the advertising is alternative: for MoCo’s TV spot, a hip minifilm complete with production credits, Megan sought out animation students and talked a local band into letting her use its music.

After earning a degree in fashion merchandising from the University of Georgia, the Madison-born Megan came back to the area for a job at Land’s End, and soon enrolled in the UW-Madison’s MBA program. MoCo evolved through the course of her studies. She knew she wanted a retail business, and, she says, “I knew that food must be incorporated somehow. My life revolves around food and I love eating. My family is large. One side is Swedish and the other side is German. We live to eat, drink and be merry as much as possible.”

VVK: What's the philosophy behind MoCo?

MR: MoCo is essentially a convenience store that caters to urban dwellers on the go. Urbanites tend to pride themselves in knowing cutting-edge design, music, pop culture, travel and politics, so I tried to bring together all the products that would communicate these facets of life.

Many of my friends love to find new food or retail products that are amazing, and then we tell one another about them. The same goes for [finding] companies that care about more than their bottom line – are they in business to achieve more than making money? When we find those that have strategies that impact people and the environment in a positive way, we tell each other about them. I wanted MoCo to be one of those companies and to hopefully set an example for others.

VVK: MoCo is different from any other convenience store I've ever been in – the vibe itself is unique, and it goes beyond product selection.

MR: You feel as if you are transported to an international destination because of the modern design. Customers tell us that MoCo reminds them of places that they have visited: Tokyo, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy. We have modern communal-style bench seating towards the front so people can eat in the sunlight coming through our huge windows while people-watching. All of our groceries are housed on minimal, chrome metro[-style] shelving. Japanese minimalism is the design theme.

Most importantly, MoCo’s interior feels good to be in. My best friend, Mary Bolger, who is LEED-certified [Leadership in Energy and Interior Design], was in charge of creating the magical feeling of the store. She definitely shared my vision for what the store needed to be: “eco-modern.”

VVK: MoCo has the distinction of being certified by the Green Restaurant Association. How did that come about?

MR: While researching an environmental strategy for food retailers during an MBA class on sustainability and ethics, I came across GRA and loved their certification process because it not only centered on food preparation and sales, but also involved community and interior design.

VVK: How did you come up with the market’s name?

MR: I wanted “convenience” to be a part of the name, but I also wanted a four-letter name. “Modern” is what brings the convenience aspect into present day. So I shortened both words to their first two letters and combined them. I love the name because people confuse it with MoMA and MMoCA, which are both beautiful museums.

VVK: What's your favorite MoCo-made food item?

It’s a tie between the sushi and the smoothies.

VVK: What innovations haven’t worked out in the way that you expected?

MR: I thought that music CDs were going to make a comeback. I, for one, really miss having a hard copy of a music library. We still have CDs, but they are listed on eBay, also. I don’t rely on in-store sales. They are mostly used to help shape the image of MoCo – that we’re passionate about music.

VVK: What role do you see MoCo as playing in its Willy St. neighborhood? Have you given thought to additional locations?

MR: Willy Street is my neighborhood and is by far the best one! Where else in Madison is there such a sense of community? I lve knowing my neighbors. The Wil-Mar neighborhood also seems to have the most professionals who bike or walk to work. Plus, the idea of there being a central park one day is so very exciting. I cannot wait to watch Madison and the eastside over the next five years from this vantage point.

I am having trouble finding another neighborhood in Madison where people are outside and community oriented as much as Willy Street. People tell me there is a neighborhood in Milwaukee that would eat MoCo up!

Stuffed Olive Whipped Cream Cheese

Recipe from Megan Ramey’s MoCo Makes Willy Street Go-go
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
Brava magazine, September 2007
Column: Around the Table

This easy spread combines the smooth lusciousness of cream cheese with the savor of a stuffed olive. “When it comes to my passion of cooking, I love combining unlikely ingredients,” says Megan.” The idea of an olive cream cheese came from a friend who used to work at a cafĂ© in Door County. Whipped cream cheese is so much better than regular because it’s easier to spread and feels good in your mouth.”

1 block cream cheese
1/2 cup skim milk
stuffed olives, as many as desired (Megan recommends Santa Barbara Olive Co.’s sundried tomato, blue cheese, or jalepeno stuffed varieties.)

Megan says: “Simply throw cream cheese, milk and as many sliced olives as you like into the bowl [of an electric mixer]. Mix until the mixture reaches your desired whippiness! Serve with bagels, veggies or crackers.”