Food News

'Monsoon Could Be Anything We Wanted It to Be.' How 2 Friends Opened the Coolest Market In Phoenix

Monsoon Market owners Michela Ricci and Koral Casillas.
Monsoon Market owners Michela Ricci and Koral Casillas. Kyle Niemier
Monsoon Market decidedly doesn't fit any particular definition. It's part wine store, part snack shop, sometimes a yoga studio, and at other times a live music venue. It's located at Seventh Street north of Osborn Road, tucked into a tan strip mall next to Wang's Vintage, a retro clothing store that stocks plenty of '80s and '90s band tees.

The desert-meets-Los Angeles vibe is apparent as soon as you walk in. A vintage Honda motorcycle sits against a white wall that reads, "Outside it's cloudy but I like that better," lyrics from a posthumously-released Mac Miller song about taking things day by day. The bike rests on a forest green rug featuring a two-headed snake, and a sherbet-red cooler with a pink "Monsoon Market" sign fits into the corner.

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A vintage motorcycle sets the tone at the entrance of Monsoon Market.
Natasha Yee
The store, owned by Koral Casillas and Michela Ricci, is something of a Phoenix hipster's fever dream. Stop in to find colorful greeting cards, fresh flowers, natural wine, locally-roasted coffee, and a dish towel with a devilish figure offering a wedge of cheddar that asks the all-important question, "Have you tried cheese?"

The two women initially met while working at Dutch Bros. Coffee and had been friends for over a decade when they started to envision the market in January 2021, after the pandemic changed the way they worked. In a weekly meeting at Tempe brewery The Shop Beer Co., they brainstormed their next career move, both excited and apprehensive about the possibilities, 28-year-old Casillas says.

She worked in corporate retail at the time while Ricci, who is 34, ran the Early Bird Phx, a mobile coffee cart that frequented farmers markets around the Valley.

"We had a lot of time on our hands all of a sudden, so we started dreaming," Casillas says.

They contemplated an elevated farmers market meets brick-and-mortar store where they could share an imaginative experience with the local community. The informal meetings went on for a few months and the two deliberated about names when Casillas woke up one night with what she thought was the perfect title.

"I texted Michela in the middle of the night, 'it's Monsoon Market!' I loved the alliteration and the simplicity of it," Casillas says. "Monsoon could be anything we wanted it to be, and nobody in the Valley was using it for this type of concept."

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The signs and display cases at Monsoon Market are all part of the design.
Natasha Yee
By April 2021, the duo decided to go full-steam ahead. They looked around for spaces in downtown Phoenix, where rent was expensive and nothing quite fit.

When their broker showed them the space on Seventh Street, which sat vacant for years, they instantly knew that they were in the right place. Casillas and Ricci called in favors from family friends and neighbors who worked as contractors and demolition experts to revamp the location and began searching for furniture and equipment.

"We thrifted basically everything in this place," Casillas says, pointing to coolers, wooden tables, and the black leather couch she sat on.

"Even the paint on the walls is from Habitat for Humanity," she says.

The women scoured Facebook Marketplace, Goodwill, and Instagram to outfit the shop, using their savings to secure the goods.

"The store created itself. We pieced it together with what we found," Casillas says. "Everything in here existed somewhere else and now it lives here."

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Almost everything is thrifted at Monsoon Market, including the leather couch.
Allison Young
Casillas quit her corporate job in July 2021 and Ricci sold the coffee cart that summer. The women reached out to brands they liked and asked for samples for their new shop. They applied for a liquor license, unsure of exactly how long the process might take.

Monsoon Market popped up on Instagram in August last year, promising "something cool" accompanied by an abstract drawing of two women holding bags filled with flowers and fresh bread. A progress post in September featured a behind-the-scenes look at construction on the shop. Then a cryptic post announcing the shop's opening came in November.

"We may or may not be in the space 12-4 p.m. tomorrow with bouquets of flowers, fresh baked goodies and more. Come see us!" the post read.

After that, the store, which didn't receive its liquor license until the following February, remained open with random hours: noon to 4 p.m. here, a "Small Business Saturday" there, and a Night Market event in conjunction with Wang's Vintage in January. Casillas and Ricci were on their way to becoming the hippest retail experience in town.

They never intended on the store being Insta-famous, but, locals, visitors, and influencers drop by sometimes for photo ops in front of Monsoon's colorful coolers, Casillas says.

While the store sells a seemingly random mix of reusable Baggu bags with smiley faces on them, spicy chips, cake mix, and locally-made pinatas, the women always knew what they didn't want the shop to be. Monsoon does not carry beauty products or clothing. There are enough small businesses that do that well in Phoenix, says Casillas.

Today, Monsoon Market has morphed into a natural wine and snack market, selling Arizona favorites such as habanero Cutino Hot Sauce, Novela Coffee beans, and organic dried artisan bucatini noodles from Phoenix Pasta Company. Plus, there's fresh Noble Bread on Fridays.

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Monsoon Market sells a selection of natural wine.
Natasha Yee
A wine club dubbed "Natty & Nice" features three natural wines from the market for $85 per month. Selections include Lugar by Vigne del Pellagroso, a sweet unfiltered white from the hills of Lake Garda in Italy, and a tart and juicy petite Sirah blend from Lousiana-based Wild Child. The wine labels and bottles are as pretty as the rest of the store, colorful, artistic, and dreamy all at once.

The wine club also includes curated monthly playlists from Recordbar Radio, a groovy local DJ collective. It's currently sold out, but customers can join the waitlist via the website.

And though Monsoon hosts "Sip and Spin Nights," where customers can sample wine while listening to live music, the store's liquor license doesn't allow people to buy full glasses of wine. So just a taste will have to do until you arrive at home, bottle in tow.

Because Monsoon Market lacks strict boundaries, it can become anything it organically evolves into, Casillas says, although she's certain it's not a bodega, a term she says has strayed from its origins.

"If you're going to be a bodega, you have to have condoms at the counter, Tylenol, and hot sandwiches or pizza ready to go. We don't have those things, but we are a neighborhood market with all kinds of fun categories," Casillas says.

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Koral Casillas and Michela Ricci are the owners and creators of Monsoon Market.
Brooklyn Photo
The women plan to continue to collaborate with other local creatives to sell food and wine in a space where people want to shop.

"We wanted to let Monsoon live for a little bit before we tried to clearly define her," Casillas says. "But now we've gotten to meet her, she's kind of mysterious. We love that this place can grow into whatever it's supposed to grow into."

Monsoon Market
3508 North Seventh Street
Sunday and Monday, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m.
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Natasha Yee is a dining reporter who loves to explore the Valley’s culinary gems. She has covered cannabis for the New Times, politics for Rolling Stone, and health and border issues for Cronkite News in conjunction with Arizona PBS, where she was one of the voices of the podcast CN2Go.
Contact: Natasha Yee