For more than 50 years, Town and Country Village has offered Palo Alto High School students fresh lunches and convenient services. Walking around Paly, it is common to overhear a conversation between two students discussing great deals offered by a store or a price increase from a popular restaurant. Because of this, it’s safe to say that Town and Country and the people working there have influenced Paly students’ unique, open-campus high school experience; equally, our student body has shaped the culture of Town and Country. From making business decisions intended to attract Paly students to greeting students who come through their doors every day, many store owners say they certainly enjoy the student-centric atmosphere during school hours.
“Paly students visit Mayfield before school, during lunch and after school for coffee drinks, pastries, sandwiches, salads and countless essential grab-and-go items,” says Karey Walker, a public relations spokesperson for the Bacchus Management Group, which owns and operates Town and Country’s Mayfield Bakery. “We love being the go-to spot for students.”
Similar to Mayfield, many Town and Country businesses have become an integral aspect of the Paly experience. Through inquiries with employees from students’ favorite restaurants like the Village Cheese House and Asian Box, Verde sought out to explore the long-established relationship between Paly and Town and Country. Here is what we found.
The Asian Box
Five minutes after the bell rings, Paly students quickly line up in front of the small sliding window, a trademark of Asian Box. Scattered throughout the outdoor seating area, they enjoy the much-loved Paly Special: the Jungle Box. Asian Box cashier Alex Chavarria hands out each box with a heartwarming smile.
“Every time they get a Jungle Box and I see a smile on their face, it makes me feel good that they are enjoying the Asian Box product,” Chavarria says.
According to Chavarria, instead of serving meals through the main doors, he meets most Paly students through the little window on the side of the building. Except for where they order, Paly students are similar to other customers, leaving a positive impression on Asian Box employees, he says.
“I remember them [the Paly students] being very polite and young, but they always know what they like,” Chavarria says.
Although their popular student deal creates a high lunch demand, Asian Box employees have gotten used to the fast-paced nature of their job.
“The customers come in to order and leave within 10 minutes, as compared to other jobs I’ve had, where customers can stay for 30, 40 minutes or even five hours sometimes,” Chavarria says.
Additionally, Chavarria has discovered that students pick up information much faster than other customers.
“When I explain how our policies are, they tend to soak up that information quickly, whereas older customers may need me to explain two to three times,” Chavarria says.
Regarding policy changes, Paly students have recently noticed that the price of the Jungle Box has increased from $5 to $7. He explains that the rise in price may be a result of the increasing cost of living, despite that it tops how much many high school students are willing to spend.
“Having Paly students coming for lunch is a much-appreciated business,” Chavarria says, “Everyone seemed happy and enjoying their food.”
The Village Cheese House
From the affordable $2 bread and dip to the large variety of sandwiches, the Village Cheese House is loved by Paly students. The quick grab-and-go restaurant offers online ordering, making it an efficient and popular choice among Paly students. As we walked up to the ordering counter, we were greeted by Junior Gonzalez, a familiar face recognized by many students as the store cashier.
“I interact with Paly students every day,” Gonzalez says. “I like talking to the students, and they always tell me how their day was. It’s almost like being friends and bonding with them.”
This personal connection allows the relationship between the Village Cheese House employees and Paly students to continue growing for generations.
“They [student customers] always bring their families,” Gonzalez says. “There are customers who came when they were in high school, and now they are 30. We always welcome them back.”
Since employees from the Village Cheese House know Paly students on a personal level, they trust their regulars and even stand up for them.
“There is this one kid that always comes here to eat. He is a regular; he comes here every day.” One day he almost got into a fight, and we defended him to prevent the fight from happening,” Gonzales says. “I remember thinking, ‘Why are you picking on this kid?’ because he always comes in, and I know him from being friendly and nice.”
The closest Town and Country business to the crosswalk is home to free samples, affordable lunches and myriad vibrantly packaged snacks. Trader Joe’s workers, donning in colorful Hawaiian shirts, are always eager to help, and the rustic-yet-quirky feel of the grocery store keeps Paly students coming back for new and old favorites alike.
At the all-too-familiar sample station, Trader Joe’s employee Dean Bernheim tells us about his experience serving the Palo Alto community, as well as how he ended up as a familiar face at Trader Joe’s.
“Sometimes it [working here] is crazy, especially during the lunch break,” he says. “We affectionately refer to it [the Paly student crowd] as ‘the horde.’”
Bernheim knows that during lunch, as well as at other times throughout the day, some students will pop into Trader Joe’s and walk out with just a sample in hand. However, he does not seem to mind.
“Some people say ‘Oh, they don’t buy anything,’” he says. “But I say, ‘Yes they do, and so what? Their parents also buy things.’”
Bernheim’s consistent presence behind the glass of the sample station might lead customers to think that he has been in this industry for decades. However, after years in high technology, Bernheim landed at Trader Joe’s for “a sort of post-retirement job.” He explains the stark contrasts between his job at Trader Joe’s and his previous career in tech, emphasizing that the opportunity to interact with the local community is one of the main benefits of his job now.
“Interacting with the public in general — that’s the reason I’m not retired now,” Bernheim says. “It’s kind of nice because I’m old, so I like that interaction with young people to see what’s happening and how things are changing.”