The longtime musician begins a new chapter in the produce business
Matt Miner is surrounded by fruits and vegetables — heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, watermelons, oranges, lemons, lettuce and more — piled neatly in containers and terra-cotta bowls. With short hair, a hint of a beard and an easy smile, he served customers on a recent Friday morning at the Mini-Super produce bodega in North Market.
It's a different picture than the one he took for Alive back in 2003 when his former band, Teeth of the Hydra, was part of the inaugural class of Bands to Watch.
“I remember there's a picture of me in Alive in the snow standing in a graveyard on the West Side,” the guitarist said. “It was a heavy metal band, so we definitely had to look tough.”
Back then, Miner had long dreads and a full beard. Three years ago, he cut his hair, though he only misses it when he's performing, comparing it to a protective curtain separating him from the audience. Now he's a model of customer service, interacting just feet away from patrons in Mini-Super, which opened in June, replacing Little Eater Produce and Provisions.
“A year ago, if you were like, ‘You'll own your own business' … I'd have been like, ‘Bullshit,'” Miner said. “I'm a musician.”
Born in Marietta, Miner sang in a hardcore punk band in his late teens, later moving to Columbus to attend college. “I wanted to just be in the mix,” he explained. “It was good to find people to play music with. So I majored in ‘start-your-own-band' at Ohio State. And then I went to Black Hills State University in South Dakota. I decided school wasn't for me, and then I moved back to Ohio and I worked at Northwest Natural Foods in the late '90s.”
That was the start of a 20-year career in the food industry, preparing Miner for a destiny he never envisioned. “A few years later, that place got ate up by Wild Oats, which was a big health food grocery store, and so I was transferred there,” he said. “Wild Oats got ate by Whole Foods, and I transferred to Whole Foods. So I was in that cycle from 1998 to 2018.”
Miner took on roles from receiving and distribution to accounting and supervising the produce team. He even moved to Washington, D.C. to work at one of the largest Whole Foods stores, which did nearly $2 million in sales per week and had “500 people in line at all times,” Miner said.
The affordable cost of living drove Miner back to Columbus, where he continued working at Whole Foods until learning of the opportunity at North Market.
Miner said he modeled the colorful setup of Mini-Super on Latin American bodegas, which he's patronized while visiting family in Mexico. But he has integrated bits of his life — the turquoise in his signage matches the serape on his couch, and one of his reclaimed wood fixtures was built using a part of an old skateboard. And he buys his produce — which is mostly local — from the Marietta area when he can.
“I would like to see a Mini-Super in a different neighborhood,” he said, thinking about the bodegas in Mexico. “They're usually in the front of people's houses, and that was the idea [at first]. I was like, ‘I live in German Village. Man, I can just sell produce on my front stoop,' which probably wouldn't have worked out. But that's what I was getting at.”
“Matt is a really good market type personality, sort of like the '90s North Market vibe,” said Jen Burton, who co-owns The Barrel and Bottle in North Market and met Miner on the music scene 15 years ago. “You'll walk in the door and he'll just yell across the way, like, ‘JB! ... Good morning!' It's awesome.”
“His spirit's amazing,” she continued. “He's just so fun to watch do anything. You never thought that produce would be so fun to watch, but he's such a character. He just brings such passion to everything he does.”
Miner will have to get used to seeing himself in the paper, posing with his produce — his Dispatch article is hanging up at the shop — though he still plays music with his current band, Nukkehammer. And although he has more responsibility as a business owner, he has more freedom to focus on his first love.
“It used to be I'd be at work until 2 a.m., or have to be in at 5 a.m., and I don't have to do that,” he said. “I have all this free time that I can dedicate to playing music.”