Green Zebra goes to college

Q: What do you get when you cross a New Seasons with a 7-Eleven? Hint: it’s not organic Slurpees.

Those who said “Green Zebra Grocery” are correct! The brainchild of former New Seasons CEO Lisa Sedlar, Green Zebra just opened its third location across the street from Cramer Hall. You can probably see it from your Intro to Western Literature class.

Whoa there, Billy the Kid! Before grabbing your environmentally-friendly grocery bags and saddling up your faithful steed, take a minute to read the rest of this article—you’re not going to have time to read it in line!

Shopping Downtown
If you live on or near campus, chances are you shop at Safeway, which is supremely unfortunate. Even considering that the notoriously long lines provide ample time to ponder the meaning of life (or read the paper), I have no idea why I shop there. The quality and selection are lacking, and for some reason the highish prices fail to reflect that. Perhaps being the only grocery store serving Portland’s Southwest Downtown district has something to do with it? Jeez, if only we lived in a city that appreciated locally-sourced organic produce.

Not to blow your mind or anything, but we do live in that city. A study conducted by the Campbell Soup Company ranked Portland the most organic-friendly city in the U.S., narrowly beating both San Francisco and Providence, Rhode Island. (I’m not sure which is more impressive: the fact that the Campbell Soup Company conducts organic food studies, or that Rhode Island made a top ten list…but I digress.)

Partnering with PSU Food Pantry
The first thing you’ll to want to do when stepping into the Green Zebra is find Kimberly Becerra. When she’s not running Portland State’s Food Pantry, Becerra moonlights as a barista at the Zebra. Becerra took time away from her job turning the sleep-deprived into productive members of society to talk to us about her other work supporting food security at PSU.

Vanguard: The basic idea behind the Pantry is to provide food to the student body, especially those who might have a tight budget. What are a few of the challenges you face trying to make that happen?

Becerra: Not having enough variety on certain days. Working with a limited number of volunteers and trying to serve as many students as possible is also challenging [due to constricted operating hours]. So we’re trying to do better outreach and get students to let us know what hours/days they would like for us to be open.

VG: Every time I pass by the Pantry there’s a line of students. It seems the organization fills a vital role on campus.

KB: It is. Almost every day we hear from students who are happy we’re open and that they’re happy we’re here. Some of the students will go into their personal stories, which really helps us when it comes to shopping for certain dietary preferences, or creating more access to certain products that are offered through the Oregon Food Bank.

VG: So does Green Zebra donate to the Oregon Food Bank or directly to PSU?

KB: We both have a partnership with the Oregon Food Bank, so after meetings with their staff rep, we eventually found that we’re able to have the Green Zebra donate directly to the Pantry. Which really benefits the students—knowing that we’re able to count on donations from Green Zebra throughout the week.

VG: What’s the best way for students to stay up-to-date with the Pantry?

KB: The Pantry Facebook page! We do a lot of notifications on there, especially of what we get that day or urgent news; if for some reason we expect to have a low amount of resources we do our best to let people know beforehand.

VG: I wish more businesses adopted that method. I hate walking to a food cart only to find out they’ve closed early! Anything else the student body should know about? What’s the best way to get involved?

KB: Definitely let us know what operating hours work best for your schedule. I’d love to have more people volunteer! There is a time commitment (1–2 hours per week over the entire term). For students meeting capstone requirements, we also offer intern opportunities. Having students from different majors devote their time to a project which ties back into the Pantry is a phenomenal help.

Let’s Go Shopping
For those of you who haven’t stepped foot in the store this last couple weeks, allow me to paint a quick picture. (For those of you who have been in the store, read this next bit anyway. Compare our separate experiences. Realize that everything is subjective. Make your psychology/philosophy professor proud.)

Hemp latte in hand (thanks Kimberly!), you take a moment to stare longingly at the pastry case; in a perfect world there would be no calories. Navigating the store is a breeze, and you quickly find yourself zooming from aisle to aisle. By now you realize that the “size doesn’t matter” mantra which people with small electronic devices invariably like to harp on suits the Green Zebra quite well.

I mean, this place has it all! Local Oregon beer, wine under twenty bucks (and a couple of good ones under ten), a few decent sakes; organic bananas, organic asparagus, organic diapers, organic dish soap, organic meats, organic lentils; organic cheese, eggs, bread, butter, pizza, hot sauce, juice, snacks, grab-and-go meals…deep breath…beer and kombucha on tap, a full salad bar, a fully functional deli serving Bunk sandwiches. And if they’re missing a certain type of cheese or a particular mushroom variety you desperately desire, you can fill out a comment card and make a request. How the hell do they fit everything!?!

Student veteran and fellow shopper Leslie Gale said it best: “Why didn’t they think of giving us a campus grocery store sooner?”

Partnering with PSU Advertising and FIR Northwest
Did you know that PSU students contributed to Green Zebra’s latest marketing campaign? Meet Doug Lowell, School of Business Administration instructor and co-director of FIR Northwest, PSU’s student-run, non-profit advertising agency.

Vanguard: How often does the advertising department have the opportunity to work with a local company like the Green Zebra?

Lowell: Every term we offer a portfolio workshop, which is an intensive three-day event where students get briefed on a real client Friday morning, and then they work nonstop through Sunday until 4 p.m. Starting from research and strategy, to the creative brief, to creating an ad campaign, they have to put everything together in a cogent presentation and show it to the faculty members that Sunday. We give them feedback, and then they have until the following Friday where they will present to the real client.

Green Zebra started off as a portfolio workshop client, who liked what they saw and wanted to execute—so we moved them to FIR Northwest, which is a student-run ad agency. Real-world clients.

Green Zebra has been a marvelous client. First of all, Lisa Sedlar believes in PSU and really believes in working with the students on campus. You’ll go into the store and start to see signage that’s speaking to you in a certain way and that was created by FIR to help create an internal experience within the store that really reflected the brand. There’s going to be some additional outreach over time, and Lisa believes in keeping that pipeline between the store and the student body open.

VG: What are some of the biggest challenges that typically crop up throughout the advertising process?

DL: The biggest challenge that we have is that advertising is practice; it’s not theory. So creating a program where people actually get to practice advertising can be challenging, but I think we’ve done a good job creating a strategy-based advertising program that can give students not just an understanding of advertising but several opportunities to practice advertising along the way. The safety net of academia is rather removed.

But what about that name?

By now it should be obvious that the Green Zebra rocks. The company provides community outreach, takes care of the men/women who work in the store—which helps to explain their perpetual happiness—and provides a uniquely convenient shopping experience centered around locally produced goodies. We spoke to operating manager Evelyn Murphy about what makes this store special.

Vanguard: So, what makes this location different from GZ’s other two Portland locations?

Murphy: We have a smaller space, so we had to get creative about what we were going to offer. We’re committed to providing a shopping experience centered around convenience, so this is really testing that model because it’s the smallest of our three locations.

VG: How might you describe the Green Zebra compared to another grocery chain?

EM: Our mantra is “healthy convenience,” and so we feel like as much as those other stores might be healthy, they’re also less convenient. The stores are so big that just to get your milk on one side of the store and your produce on the other side, you’re doing your twenty minute walk for the day, you know? The idea with all three of our locations is that it’s easy to find what you’re looking for and get in and out of the store quickly.

VG: So everyone’s dying to know, where did the name Green Zebra Grocery come from?

EM: When Lisa was forming the idea of her healthy convenience store, she was looking for a name that would be memorable, something that would make for a great logo, and something that was rooted in the Northwest. The Green Zebra, as it turns out, is named after the green zebra tomato, which is a green-and-yellow striped tomato that grows particularly well in the NW.

VG: Wow, that’s actually pretty neat. What were a few of the challenges with opening this location?

EM: The store’s still fairly new, so we’re slowly figuring out what people want to buy at this location in particular. Finding our product mix is a continual challenge, and parking is a bit of a hassle in downtown Portland. We do have ten designated parking spots, but you do have to pay for them. Apart from that though, everything has been going pretty smooth.

VG: Right on. Is there anything else you want PSU to know about?

EM: We’ve partnered with Bunk, who are making ready-to-go hot sandwiches, and our staff are doing the made-to-order cold sandwiches. We also have a Green Zebra app, which allows you to place an order ahead of time and pick up your sandwich/coffee when you’re on the run. Something else that we’re excited about is having Smith Tea on tap—the nitro chai is super delicious.

The elusive green zebra

I sampled most of the foods/drinks listed throughout the above interviews and can personally attest to their delicious qualities. Sampling the green zebra tomato is still on my list however. It seems they grow best when it’s not freezing. And who knows…maybe by summer we’ll have those organic Slurpees after all!

Green Zebra’s PSU location can be found at 1704 SW Broadway and is open weekdays 7 a.m.–10 p.m. and 8 a.m.–9 p.m. on weekends. The PSU Food Pantry is located in SMSU 047A and is open 12:30–2:30 p.m. every weekday when school is session.