Food Fantasy Island 

With the addition of a working fish market, Alameda's Marketplace is coming to resemble its founder's dream.

Customers at Alameda Natural Grocery, a small health-food store, kept asking owner Donna Layburn to stock products that they had to leave the island to find. Layburn finally decided to expand her store. She ended up with a 20,000-square-foot brick building on Park Street -- once the home of Alameda Ford -- and a vision: to create a complete marketplace for organic, artisanal, and high-quality food. She called it simply "The Marketplace."

Layburn's dream first opened in January, and though there are still large sheets of plastic hanging from the rafters and "Coming soon!" signs, the place is finally starting to come together. Alameda Natural Grocery stocks rows of organic produce as well as vitamins and natural foods. The Alameda Artisan Bakery stand brings in bread and desserts from a number of purveyors, and Norma's Floral sells flowers.

And meat has finally arrived at the once all-veggie market. Niman Ranch now maintains a couple of refrigerator cases, with Petaluma Poultry next to it. Even more intriguing, Big Bluff Ranch, a small, family-owned operation, has set up a freezer case for its grass-fed beef, which is available only from late spring to late fall.

The next cornerstone to be put in place is J.P.'s Fish Market. Proprietor Joey Pucci is a gregarious fourth-generation fishmonger whose family ran a market down by Jack London Square until the 1950s before switching to restaurant sales. Pucci is reuniting the men in his family -- his father, uncle Pat, and even his brother, whose regular gig is singing opera -- to staff what he calls Alameda's only "old-fashioned working fish market."

On August 15 (August 22 in case of construction delays) J.P.'s will open for business seven days a week. They'll have two fresh-fish counters, a couple of live tanks, and an oyster bar. Joey's father will come in and cook in the afternoons, and the family is planning eventually to offer prepared lunches and dinners.

According to Layburn, a cheese and wine store is expected in September, followed by a deli, a cafe, and someday even a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes. "We're getting interest from the chain stores," she says, "but we're holding out to get the types of tenants we want, to keep the vision pure."

Joey Pucci's vision is to build a loyal local clientele. "All the [food] money in Alameda goes to Berkeley," he says. "We want to keep it on the island."

The Marketplace, 1650 Park St., Alameda, is open 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Mon.-Sat., and 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. on Sundays.


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