Culver City's Jackson Market
April 28, 2016
Who remembers the movie "Lost Horizon" that came out in 1937 starring Ronald Colman, directed by Frank Capra, and based on a novel by James Hilton? It introduced us to Shangri-La, a mystical, harmonious valley in the Himalayas, an earthly paradise hidden away from the outside world.
Welcome to Culver City's version, the Jackson Market at 4065 Jackson Avenue between Braddock Drive and Culver Boulevard, (jacksonmarketanddeli.com), an unexpected delight tucked away on a residential street.
This charming establishment with the umbrella seating in front and the warm, old world feeling inside includes a welcoming garden and patio in back, an oasis where the sound of birds accompanies your dining. Definitely an out-of-city experience.
The market has been in Culver City since 1925. According to Tony Istwani, its genial and industrious proprietor since 2000, in the early years it was a butcher shop and the surrounding area consisted of bungalows occupied by actors who worked at MGM, with farmlands nearby. In the '50s the shop was transformed to a market and in the late '90s the deli was added.
Asked how he got into the market and deli business, Istwani shared that when he was 16 and in high school his father bought the Little Corner Store in Santa Barbara and had him run it until he went away to college, where he studied chemical engineering. Unfortunately, it turned out that job opportunities in that field just weren't there.
"After I graduated no one would hire me," he recalled, "but sometimes things really do work out for the best."
He remembered a key moment several years ago when he was living in Santa Monica "and I'm sitting in my bedroom looking through the employment and business opportunities and I come across the ad for this market in Culver City. Now, I'd been in California for 30 years or so and had never heard of Culver City so I put it on my GPS and it's only 3.2 miles from me!"
He promptly checked it out and within three weeks he had bought the market. That was in 2000, and extensive renovation and restocking was needed. Istwani, a hands-on owner, rolled up his sleeves and got to work on the tiling, painting and remodeling. The following year he set up the seating in the back garden area.
"When I was doing the remodeling work it made me happy to hear 'wow, good job' when people saw what I was doing," he recalled. "It was such a positive reaction. I put out a lot of money to make the changes and eventually it started to do well, thanks to so much positive feedback. While we do have gourmet items we try to keep it very affordable, and I enjoy having my neighbors shop here.
"I get the best of the local stuff and we offer healthy options. It's not unusual to sell 300 sandwiches at lunchtime and it's 50 to 60 breakfasts on average on the weekend." Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. weekdays and until 2 p.m. weekends.
Istwani, who immigrated to the US as a child in 1980, remembered that when he was growing up in Syria "every block had a couple of markets. That's the feeling I wanted to bring to this market, to make it feel homey and convenient for the neighbors, so they would feel comfortable here."
"An overwhelming amount of people love and support this place," he said. "A lot of business comes from word-of-mouth, and real estate brokers use the proximity of the market as a selling point. Many families come with their kids and enjoy the back garden area on weekends."
The market, which is open seven days a week, offers groceries, fresh produce, snacks, ice cream, fresh baked breads (including wonderful French bread) and pastries, Boar's Head deli meats and cheeses, beverages (coffee, juices, teas, tonics, craft local and imported beer and wine), and custom-built sandwiches, wraps and salads. Store hours are Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
This writer can personally endorse the extraordinary carrot cake. It should come with a warning label because once that fork is in motion, it's impossible to stop after just a bite or two. But on the positive side, should justification be needed, carrots are highly nutritious and a particularly good source of beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K, potassium and antioxidants. And a sampling of the other delectable pastries is definitely on the agenda.
In addition to the Jackson Market there is The Green Store at 2151 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach, which Istwani's sister runs. "It needed total rehab and the city and mayor were very cooperative," he said, recalling that "it took 10 weeks, including the permit process, and there was wonderful support from everyone at City Hall. The store is one-third the size of the Jackson Market but identical in what it offers. It opened Thanksgiving Day, 2013. We even received a Certificate of Recognition."
His latest venture, for which he is targeting an April opening, is the Jackson Café in Los Angeles on Jefferson, bordering Culver City. "It will be all outdoor seating," he said, "and should be able to accommodate about 60 people."
As he reflected on how business has expanded and life has changed since he was an unemployed graduate he reminisced about his late father, whom he described as a strong, wise and guiding influence.
"He was always smarter than me," he said, "so I tried to learn from him. I'll never forget how he liked to see people work, make money, and feed their families."
Istwani shares that desire.
"There will be staff openings at all three locations," he said, "and I love to hire locally." He invited those who are interested to drop by or call him at the Jackson Market, (310) 425-8426 for further information regarding these employment opportunities in Culver City, Hermosa Beach and Los Angeles.
Istwani's love for this country and the community relationships he's developed here came through clearly during the interview. "It would be very educational if everyone could go to a third world country; then they'd really appreciate America," he emphasized. "This is like paradise." And to the delight of his customers and neighbors in Culver City, he's certainly cultivated, nurtured and embellished the little piece of paradise located on Jackson Avenue.