By Lloyd Graff
Food selling businesses can tell us a lot about best and worst practices in the unending search for elusive success as an entrepreneur.
I spent the holidays in the Bay Area (new granddaughter) and indulged my happy obsession of searching markets for the best and freshest produce, breads and cheeses. Farmers’ Markets are reduced in midwinter, but I indulged my passion at a semi-outdoor market open seven days a week called Milk Pail Market, in Mountain View, Cal., home of Google.
The store was started 36 years ago by Steve Rasmussen and his father when they bought a bankrupt drive-through dairy store and took over the lease. The business started out as an independent dairy. Steve bought tanks, contracted with local milk producers, homogenized and pasteurized raw milk and then sold it to the Silicon Valley locals looking for a better, fresher, cheaper product.
The milk business connected him to dairy farmers and he started buying big rounds of good quality local cheese which he then cut up to sell to his milk clientele. He built up a network of suppliers of superb cheese makers and then started to add fruits and vegetables of impeccable freshness and flavor. The dairy store became more like a cross between a Farmers’ Market and supermarket produce department—and he kept his prices ridiculously low.
Rasmussen competes with a Safeway across the street and a Whole Foods a half mile away. His prices are 25 percent lower than Safeway and around half of Whole Foods, and I consider his quality and service far superior.
The whole store is maybe 4,000 square-feet including an area under an awning and an entrance that spills into a parking lot. The aisles are narrow (he uses small carts), lighting is uneven, cheeses are available for sampling with toothpicks in a tiny nook next to the Acme bread (the best sourdough in the country) delivered twice daily. There are no checkout lanes. People just line up at the counter where cashiers also pack their groceries. AND it all works. Magnificently.
I look at Milk Pail Market and wonder why people make business so hard and complicated. Rasmussen runs one 4,000 square-foot store, buys the best stuff, sells it way cheaper than the competition and prospers. He does not plan to franchise—I hope.
Question: What is your favorite Cheese? Do you enjoy stinky cheese?
In Front of Milk Pail Market