Portland’s newest Eastern European grocery, Citymaxx Food Stores, aims to be an updated alternative to traditional mom and pop Old Country groceries.
“It’s Whole Foods gone Eastern European,” Citymaxx General Manager Matt Schumacher said.
The store, located in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood in Southeast Portland, offers six aisles of Eastern European meats, beer, wine, tea, candy, cheese and more, along with a deli, baked goods and a produce section.
Though the official opening isn’t until June 22, the grocery had a soft opening late last month, allowing customers to shop while the store stocks more products. Schumacher said it let him work out any last problems to make the opening smooth.
Some of the products, such as ChaCha sunflower seeds, aren’t available anywhere else in the city, Schumacher claimed. He said two Russian beers stocked in the store are only available in one other place in the United States — in New York City.
One side of one aisle is filled entirely with various types of sausage, including pork frankfurters, wedding sausage and bastirma cured dried beef strip among countless others.
In addition to the grocery, Schumacher said the store planned to add a European soccer bar, complete with soccer scarves hanging from the ceiling and plenty of TVs.
Schumacher is the former owner of Alameda Brewhouse. He said he began helping get Citymaxx running in February when a friend introduced him to the owners.
Though Schumacher said he didn’t have Eastern European heritage, he said co-owner Vladimir Kharitonenko is from Russia, and hopes to expand the store into a chain of Eastern European grocery stores.
Eastern Europeans aren’t exclusively the store’s market Schumacher said, though Citymaxx serves a large Eastern-European population in the neighborhood.
U.S. census records estimate around 26% of the foreign-born residents living in the store’s census tract in 2017 were born in Eastern Europe. Of the entire Portland area, residents born in Eastern Europe are estimated to make up around 12% of the foreign-born population.
John Audas, in charge of meat and seafood at Citymaxx, said some of the deli’s most-popular items include whole smoked fish and hanging tenders, which come from the inside cavity of the cow and are meant to be sliced thin. Audas said he had never seen hanging tenders at any other local grocery store.
Having staff members who speak Russian has been helpful when working with customers who prefer the language, Audas said.
The store also caters to its Eastern European customers by cutting meat in hunks rather than in small cuts the way most mainstream grocery stores do, Audas said.
He said customers preferred to buy larger cuts of meat to take home and cut themselves.
“Once they walk in here, they’re repeat customers,” Audas said.
— Peter Talbot
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