By Debbie Flessner
The desire of consumers to purchase farm fresh and locally-grown food is more than just a trend—it’s the new norm.
As more and more Americans are coming to grips with the health risks associated with various additives, pesticides and GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) that are found in foods, they’re seeking out restaurants and markets where they can find the freshest, most natural products available. The timing has never been better for a new Detwiler’s Farm Market to open in Sarasota.
An official opening date has not yet been set, but the target has been set for January 2020, though the Detwiler family has said that they’re hoping to get lucky and open a little earlier. The newest Farm Market location is in the old Winn-Dixie site in the Merchants Pointe Shopping Center at 2881 Clark Road, on the corner of Clark and Swift Roads. It will be the fifth Detwiler market of its kind, following the original Palmer Blvd. location, one in Venice, another one on University Drive and the most recent one in Palmetto.
In 2002, the Detwiler family, which consists of parents Henry and Natalie and their nine now adult children, began to sell fresh fruits and vegetables on the side of the road in Sarasota. Since opening their first Farm Market in 2008, they have concentrated on supporting nearby growers and the local economy by buying local, whenever possible.
Steven Larkin, one of the few non-Detwiler family members who works in the corporate offices, is their Director of Store Development. He says that when the family was choosing the next site for one of their Farm Markets, both the location and the timing were considered.
“Most importantly, we’re looking to grow smart and service our customers,” he said. “There’s no pressure at all to expand, so our conversation about this store was, ‘Is this really the right thing to do?’”
Once the conversation progressed to one about finding a good site to put a new market, Larkin and the Detwilers began to talk to Carl Ricker, the North Carolina-based businessman/developer who owns Merchants Pointe Shopping Center. Ricker’s largest tenant there, Winn-Dixie, had declared bankruptcy and was shutting down their stores.
Ricker is one of the largest private real estate investors in the southeastern United States, and manages his properties through Asheville’s Azalea Management & Leasing, where he is the CEO. He says that after the Detwiler family contacted him about his soon-to-be vacant store at the shopping center, he went to see their operation in Palmetto, in order to find out how they conducted their business.
“I had numerous grocery stores that wanted to go in there, but after I saw what they were doing in Palmetto, they became my first choice,” he said. “The quality of stores they have and the way they treat their customers was important to me. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m sort of known as a good person—once I really got to know the family, I could tell that’s how they operated their business, too.”
The Detwiler family is very open about their faith, and the business decisions they make, from the benefits they offer their employees to their intense focus on making their Farm Markets as customer-centric as possible, reflect their strong belief in doing things the right way. When reconstruction is completed, the Merchants Pointe location will be almost 45,000 square feet, roughly the same size as the Palmetto store.
Within those walls will be some of the staples that Detwilers is known for, as well as a few newer additions that might be less familiar to regular shoppers, but will be just as welcomed.
“We’re primarily known for our produce, deli and bakery, but we’ve also been growing our seafood and meat departments,” Larkin said. “The other thing that we’ve added for this store is about 1,500 square feet of wellness products like vitamins and supplements. And about one-third of the store will be fresh cut produce. When you walk out that door, it will last for at least four days at your house.”
Of course, many times, that produce is organic, and the freshly baked breads at the bakery are also made with gluten-free options. No one ever said that great tasting food couldn’t also be healthy, even with today’s dietary concerns.
According to Carl Ricker, to go along with the opening of the new Detwiler’s location, he will be renovating the rest of Merchant’s Pointe. While the American Grill & Hearth and Ace Hardware stores will remain, the remainder of the shopping center will be re-leased to new tenants and the overall look updated.
About 90 days prior to the Detwiler’s Farm Store’s opening, the family will hold a job fair, during which they plan to hire 100 full-time and 50 part-time employees to staff it. The company provides benefits that include profit sharing, quarterly bonuses and more. Follow Detwiler’s Facebook page and periodically check their website at https://www.detwilermarket.com to learn what date the job fair will be held.
Larkin said that fans of the Detwiler’s brand can expect more of the same at the new Sarasota location.
“We provide wonderful customer service and a wonderful product,” he said. “If you make a request, we will seek a way to fill that request right then. Our slogan here is, ‘Eat Fresh for Less,’ and we mean it.”