An Epicure’s Dream

You can go daily and get your rotisserie, your charcuterie, your meat, fish, poultry, bread, pastries, chocolate—whatever you want, says Steven Carlin.

Have breakfast or lunch, or relax at the wine bar.

Carlin, CEO and founder of Oxbow Public Market and Annex in Napa, is enthusiastic that Oxbow will provide the missing link in the Napa experience: a central marketplace for people to gather, relax, and enjoy specialty foods of all kinds. The market, scheduled to open in October, will be located between Copia and the Wine Train station at the center of Napa’s Oxbow district, a riverfront area bordered by the sharp oxbow bend of the Napa River, just east of downtown. The building’s wraparound decks will face a 12-acre nature preserve across the river, and the flood control bypass channel—essentially an eight-acre park—will border the market’s northwest corner. Copia’s gardens and parking lots (which the market will share) contribute to the sense of open space. The building itself is a "cross between an agricultural barn and a train depot. It’s intended to look and feel as if it belongs here," says Carlin. Napa’s Oxbow district is poised to take on the role of a town square—something downtown Napa, for all of its redevelopment of ate, still lacks. "You have to give Steve Carlin kudos for his vision," says Cassandra Walker, the city’s economic development manager. "The Oxbow market sets the standard for new development, bringing together food, dining, and entertainment in one destination within walking distance of downtown."

Carlin, who spent 20 years at Oakville Grocery—including 10 as CEO—was the driving force behind the tenant diversity of San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace.  He is also project manager/consultant for the highly anticipated Nut Tree Village marketplace in Vacaville. The 27-year Napa Valley resident notes that although the valley virtually overflows with artisan producers, accessibility to these foods and products is severely lacking. "The availability of quality artisan food in the Napa Valley is not up to the level of wine availability," says Carlin. "[Oxbow market] will bring the valley up a few notches in its focus on the food itself—not just on the restaurants. "It took almost no time for tenants to start scrambling to get into the market. But Carlin, as he did for the Ferry Building, carefully sought out and handpicked each vendor. All are local producers, including branches of popular Wine Country businesses such as Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, the Model Bakery, the Olive Press, and Anette’s Chocolates (see sidebar for a more complete list of tenants). Products will range from chocolate to wine to cheese to seafood to sustainably farmed local produce and humanely raised meats, all of which will be complemented by seven-day-a-week farmers market stalls and several casual eateries. Carlin’s idea to create marketplaces such as Oxbow and the Ferry Building came from a year sabbatical he took with his family in Italy in 2000. In the small town outside Florence where they resided, life revolved around the market, which was both meeting place and commercial hub. "In Europe, the stores are great because the customers demand that kind of quality," he says. "[I knew] if that could occur in the United States, then something very special could happen." Carlin brought that conviction home to his next job as project manager of the Ferry Building, whose runaway success convinced him that Americans were hungry for the marketplace experience. The Oxbow venture has a more bucolic feel than the bustling urban Ferry Building, which works for its location. "When people come to Napa to live or visit, they want a rural experience," Carlin says. "Oxbow is close to the downtown area, but in a way it’s very far away—it feels very agricultural."

Oxbow Public Market and Annex Tenants (to date): Anette’s Chocolate Factory The Fatted Calf Long Meadow Ranch The Model Bakery The Olive Press Oxbow Wine Merchant and Wine Bar Pica-Pica Ria Roli Roti Taylor’s Automatic Refresher Three Twins Organic Ice Cream Utensil