Small family grocery stores were a staple of close-knit communities in the idyllic days gone by. But in today’s world of supermarket conglomerates and megafarm monopolies, it's rare to find a neighborhood market owned and run by, well, your actual neighbors.
Living Green Market is just that. Opened by 34-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident Anthony Papageorgiou, Living Green Market is the epitome of a small-town gathering place where you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables or enjoy a leisurely lunch on the sun-drenched patio.
Born in Greece and raised in Canada, Papageorgiou made his way to the states 15 years ago in search of the American Dream. He took a job as a waiter and quickly moved up to management, only to be fired shortly thereafter.
“[My boss] wanted me to do certain things that I didn’t agree with,” he says with no regrets. “I wouldn’t do something that I don’t believe in. He couldn’t have somebody that wouldn’t listen to him or somebody that had an opinion, so he fired me.”
Down but not out, Papageorgiou dipped his toes in the real estate market, only to be destroyed like so many others when the market tanked. So he did what anyone might do in that situation.
He bought a tomato truck.
“I started off with only tomatoes, and within two or three days I had sold tomatoes to probably all of the restaurants from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, so then I added more items and my ex-boss became one of my best clients,” he says, explaining that he and his former employer are now great friends.
Increasing the supply of produce to over 300 items, Papageorgiou grew his company into a $3 million business before selling it just over three years ago and opening Living Green Market.
“I’ve always played around with little businesses — bracelets, trading cards, and stuff like that,” he says of his entrepreneurial spirit. “My dad always had a business, and that was implanted in me from when I was a little kid.”
Today, Living Green has become the go-to family market for those who enjoy the comfortable feel of a neighborhood store where Papageorgiou greets customers by name.
And while many stop in for the fresh produce, it's the café and juice bar that keeps them coming back again and again.
“The idea is to be health conscious and have clean ingredients,” says Papageorgiou. “We only use Cretan olive oil, which is one of the best ones. It’s expensive, but people appreciate it. You say, ‘Why is this good?’ and you can’t put your finger on it, but it’s little things like that that make the difference.”
A flavor-packed deli of delights includes 10 to 15 vegan items daily, including homemade specialties such as the kale salad, mashed sweet potatoes, broccoli and brussels sprout cole slaw, and zucchini-noodle pesto with portobellos and sun-dried tomatoes.
Premade salads include the Don’t Tell Your Friends (Cause It Will Run Out), which contains tantalizing layers of portobello mushrooms, roasted eggplant, hemp seeds, carrots, tomatoes, almonds, olives, cucumbers, and vegan pesto on a bed of romaine lettuce.
Living Green offers six soups daily, at least three of which are vegan. A brand-new hot bar contains no fewer than five vegan choices, and a selection of hummuses, dips, muffins, cookies, and raw organic truffles, as well as an olive bar, a bulk section, and a variety of handpicked wines, round out their amazing array of options.
The juice bar is one of their most popular draws thanks to Papageorgiou’s unique juicing technique, where some ingredients are blended while others are juiced. The perfectly balanced Healthy & Sexy is mix of red apple, beets, cucumber, and lemon, which are juiced, and blended whole banana and kale.
“If you juice fruit and it doesn’t have any pulp, the sugar gets absorbed into your blood stream very quickly,” he explains. “The pulp slows down the absorption of sugar in the body, and that gives us a longer release of energy rather than high ups and downs. Even the order the ingredients are put in the juicer makes a difference.”
Running a business where employee opinions are valued is paramount to Papageorgiou, lest anyone feel like he did when he was fired years ago.
“We have a super, all-star team. Everybody is very talented and contributes in their own way. Everybody’s feedback is really encouraged.”
If you forget Papageorgiou’s name the next time you're at Living Green, he says to just remember Nick Papagiorgio, Rusty Griswold’s hard-partying alter ego in the classic movie Vegas Vacation.
“It’s the only way people remember it,” he says, laughing.
Living Green Market. 1305 E. Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park; 954-771-9770; livinggreenfreshmarket.com.
Wendy Rhodes is a freelance writer and award-winning author. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @WendyRhodesFL.