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Cheap, quality food at Bloomingfoods’ $3 dinner nights

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Bloomingfoods Market & Deli organizes a $3 dinner night Sept. 12. The dinner nights are every Wednesday night at the Near West Side store and every Thursday night at the East Side store. Alex Deryn

It’s Wednesday, and the kitchen manager of Bloomingfoods Market and Deli's west side location and his assistant are gearing up for the four hours of mayhem that goes into providing a constant flow of food for an average of 500 people.

“I usually put in like 19,000 steps on these days,” kitchen manager Jordan Maxedon said.

“Isn’t that like 12 miles?” assistant kitchen manager Jim Meehan asked.

“It doesn’t feel like 12 miles,” Maxedon said.

The community-owned grocery has been offering $3 dinners weekly since last fall, and the dinners have been growing in popularity ever since.

Bloomingfoods got the idea for $3 dinners from a similar community-owned business in North Carolina, said west side location manager Phil Phillipy.

“The idea behind it is to be accessible to everyone,” Phillipy said. “Once a week we offer a high quality meal at a cost that anyone can afford. That’s really the goal.”

The number of students who come to $3 dinner nights seems to be growing as word of mouth and social media have made people more aware, Phillipy said.

Each meal consists of two different entrees and two sides to choose from, Meehan said. At least one entree and one side is always both vegan and gluten free.

Both locations of Bloomingfoods offer the $3 dinners year round but each location has separate days and times. The west side location serves $3 dinners from 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and the east location serves its $3 dinners from 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

This Thursday’s menu for the east side location includes chicken or bean enchilada casseroles, Spanish rice and fiesta corn.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily at the hot bar, with a large variety of menu items that change every day. All chicken, beef and eggs for this are locally sourced. 

Food served on $3 dinner nights is simpler than the normal hot food bar because of the volume of food needed, Phillipy said. 

Bloomingfoods still tries to use Indiana chicken and pork as much as possible when serving meat at $3 dinners, and Phillipy said there are never preservatives or MSGs in their dinners.

“One of the things that’s most important to me is using clean ingredients,” Maxedon said. “I wanted people to walk away not really believing that they paid $3 for that food. I want them to be impressed with what they got.”

Maxedon said it can be challenging to cook high-quality food for so many people, but he does it because he believes it’s important to offer people high-quality food for an affordable price.

In the future, Maxedon said he hopes to have local vendors come in Wednesday nights to demo their products. He thinks it would be a great way for more people to be aware of local vendors and another way Bloomingfoods could give back to the community.

By 5 p.m. Wednesday, people are lined up by the hot bar already. Maxedon and Meehan start pulling out trays full of Cajun chicken, tofu gumbo, creole corn and Cajun dirty rice. 

Time to get those steps in.

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