Who would have thought that hitchhiking from Long Island, N.Y. to New Haven Connecticut, would eventually lead to the creation of The Produce Station. But, isn't that how most businesses' get started? Occasionally the dream in 3rd grade of being a teacher or fireman or president comes to pass, but for me it started with Richard and Music Martin, who picked me up, while hitchhiking in 1971 in New York. You see, I was headed to Ann Arbor, and Richard and Music were from Ann Arbor, and I've been a big believer in fate ever since.
Not knowing anyone in Ann Arbor, I eventually contacted Richard and Music who were in the process of helping open the first vegetarian, natural food restaurant in Ann Arbor. It was located on South State Street in what is now Shaman Drum Bookstore. The restaurant was called Indian Summer, and back in the early 70's, it was a wildly popular place frequented by hippies and professionals alike. Our creed was "no cans allowed"; therefore everything was prepared from scratch. We made contacts with organic growers across the state, and served many organic dishes. Most of the staff were counter-culture individuals interested in things like back to nature, Eastern religion, natural foods, etc. Most of us were in our 20's, and this experience laid the groundwork for me as how far a passionate idea can take you. I began as a dish washer, and then eventually went to the Eastern Market and the Detroit Produce Terminal with the produce buyer. It was and still is unusual for a small restaurant to do its own buying, but we wanted to control quality as much as possible. I found the market fascinating, and when the buyer hurt his back (a common occurrence in the biz), I tried to step in. I knew very little about the art of buying, but I was the only one who knew where the market was located and I didn't mind volunteering to work the midnight shift. I had no idea how intimidating the market could be, and I was embarrassed early and often in this male dominated, old world style profession I had just entered.
The next chapter of this story is Frog Holler. Back in the 70's there was definitely a communal element goingon in Ann Arbor. A group of us at Indian Summer Restaurant decided to buy a farm, and in a get-back-to-nature kind of way, we wanted to live on the land and grow food for the restaurant. At this juncture I would be amiss not to mention Ken King. Ken was the impetus for both Indian Summer and the Farm, which was and still is Frog Holler Farm, located in Brooklyn, Michigan. Ken was the spiritual leader and guiding force behind both the restaurant and the farm. Many of the folks who participated in Indian Summer, I would venture to guess, were inspired by their participation there, and their lives were profoundly affected by the experience. I know mine was! In the past, you may have met Ken, and his wife Cathy King at the Ann Arbor Farmers market, where they bring their fine, farm raised organic vegetables and fruits to market. They have really helped raise the awareness of the organic and local produce movement in Washtenaw County.
My focus at Frog Holler Farm in the mid-70's was to help bring income into the farm by developing a wholesale business. Since I was going to the market for Indian Summer, I thought, why couldn't I buy for some restaurants in town. I solicited the produce orders of some of my favorite hangouts like Del Rio, Seva, Afternoon Delight, the Earle, the produce co-ops, etc., to help bring income into the farm. Before I knew it, I had a business on my hands. I started meeting some great local growers across the state, and really getting into the business of sharing the products I was seeing with the public.
In 1979, I set up shop at 1629 S State Street, where The Produce Station now resides. Of course, back then it was the warehouse for Frog Holler Produce Co. We even set up a Saturday market where individuals could come and pick up produce from our wholesale company. By now I had a handful of employees and trucks, and I would get up at one in the morning to go to the market and buy produce for my customers. How in the world did I get here! I thought I wanted to be an accountant in 3rd grade.
In the mid 1980's, I felt frustrated with my ability to sell the wonderful produce I was beginning to source, so I decided to open up my own retail fruit and vegetable market. What in the world was I thinking? I worked with an architectural firm to draw up plans to attach a market to the existing warehouse.
In July of 1986, The Produce Station was born, and the goal was simply to sell various products to make a great meal. I had no experience in running a specialty food market, but all my experience so far in produce buying taught me to buy food that tastes good. That was always the number one criteria. Having been self taught as a produce buyer, I always tasted product before I purchased it. My stomach has often paid for it, like checking out just how sweet those raw Vidalia onions really were. The goal was always to turn friends on to great tasting food. What more did I need to know.
That's the story in a nutshell. I've been extremely lucky to have attracted great co-workers over the years, many of whom have been with me for 15 years or more. They've been the friendly faces who have helped you with your selections, or gone out of their way to find special products for you. I strongly feel The Produce Station and stores like it; represent the good old days of shopping before the box stores came along. Great passion, personalized and friendly service, unusually high quality, and integrity are qualities I hope you find in our business.
Hope to see you soon,
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