Fruitvale Fruits and Community Roots
Mi Carnal Market situates itself as a type of oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of East Oakland’s Fruitvale District (located at 2755 Foothill Blvd.). Brightly colored produce complements shady, patterned umbrellas that greet you as they lead you through wide-open doors, inviting you to see what treasures await inside… and owner, AbdulRahman Taleb, wouldn't have it any other way.
You see, Mi Carnal is the first of its kind, and Abdul would know; he grew up in the neighborhood. As the store serves the community, it speaks to the importance of remaining in the community rather than exploiting it for profit.
To help fill the void left behind by the exodus of chain grocers from East Oakland, Abdul decided to launch a grocery store that sold fresh food for his Fruitvale community. Abdul felt uniquely positioned with his family’s experience and expertise of running businesses. His family hadn’t yet entered the produce market business, but Abdul felt he could rise to the challenge.
“Volume is the key. Volume and good relationships,” notes Abdul. “I built relationships with farmers and distributors because volume is how I get good pricing on produce to pass savings on to the community.”
"So many businesses go the extractive route of opening a business, creating wealth, and leaving...I’m excited that I can offer something different."
In 2019, Mi Carnal established a partnership with Mandela Partners to participate in Mandela’s Fresh Creds Incentive Program--which provides an extra 50% off California grown fruits and vegetables to customers, who are already participating in CalFresh/SNAP at independent grocery stores.
Amani Ali, Healthy Grocery Initiative Coordinator at Mandela Partners, provides technical assistance and support to independent grocery store partners. She remembers her first impression of Abdul: A kind soul with a deep admiration for his community.
That impression stuck and was braided into how Abdul does business.
“I love being able to communicate the final price to my customers at the end of the shopping trip when they use Fresh Creds for fruits and vegetables,” shares Abdul. “Seeing them smile makes me smile!”
Fresh Creds was just the start of a relationship between Mi Carnal and Mandela Partners. Mandela Partners helped Abdul become a stronger advocate for Mi Carnal and independent retailers like him. Abdul has called upon the City of Oakland for more transparency around food retailer fees and fines.
“[The City of Oakland] fines us for having trash around the store, but the garbage cans on every corner are overflowing. What are we supposed to do?” remarks Abdul.
Even though the City offers assistance via their website and campaigns, Abdul notes the challenges of connecting with real people to address gaps in support. Small business owners are so busy trying to keep their businesses afloat and avoid fines that there is no time to educate the community on other ways to support each other. One example of this was Measure HH ("the Soda Tax"), which established a one cent per fluid ounce tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages in Oakland.
“I didn’t want it [the Soda Tax] to pass. What’s the point of taking money from people who may not even have the education or means to avoid sugar, and then giving those funds from the tax to the Parks & Recreation Department to benefit the people in ‘the Hills?’” says Abdul, “It would make sense if that money stayed in our community.”
Through his example, Abdul is showing us that policy advocacy--even when it is happening from the sidelines-- is a major step in moving the needle toward systemic change by building power from within the community.
So what’s next for Mi Carnal? Abdul is proud of what he has built and hopes more people will be inspired to build businesses in their communities.
“So many businesses go the extractive route of opening a business, creating wealth, and leaving, thus taking that wealth away from the community.” says Abdul. “I’m excited that I can offer something different.”
In the meantime, Abdul has assembled a team that not only works at Mi Carnal, but are invested in the future of Mi Carnal and the community it serves. Mi Carnal is more than just a one-stop shop for groceries, but a place where customers and their families can find respite, comfort, and connection.
Visit Mi Carnal Market and shop in-store promotions!