BUSY: Santa Monica Merchant founder Giles Donavan packs a crate for a customer. (Photo by Michael Ryan)
BUSY: Santa Monica Merchant founder Giles Donavan packs a crate for a customer. (Photo by Michael Ryan)

“Farm to table” and “farm to fork” are familiar phrases. But what about “farm to front door?”

It’s a novel concept that best describes the business model behind Venice Merchant, a service that handles all the moving parts between the consumer and the grower.

It’s not simply a delivery service, though. It’s a carefully coordinated effort that relies on the community not only as the consumer but in some cases the food provider as well.

Here’s the 101. A customer goes to the website. They select a standard or small crate of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Additional items such as eggs, meat, bread, and honey can be added to the crate. Venice Merchant then delivers the goods on a set date.

The two biggies that separate Venice Merchant from a grocery delivery service like Amazon Fresh are the quality of the goods and the amount of time between food being picked to reaching a customer’s front door.

The goal is to get the goods straight from the source and deliver them within 48 hours of harvest. It sounds like a major pain in the butt as well as a pricey proposition. Coordination is the key. A delivery truck makes a statewide road trip (Paso Robles for beef, Agoura Hills for greens, San Pedro Fish Market for seafood). Once the truck makes it back, the food is sorted into crates by order and delivered to the individual residences.

It sounds lofty but the ability to cut out all the overhead of storing, stocking, and staffing that are common to grocery stores means lower costs. The price for a crate of fresh fare ($40) is in line if not cheaper than a similar sized order from Whole Foods. Furthermore, the food is as fresh as it gets. Yes, it’s all organic. Yes, the items in the crates are customizable to your tastes. Additionally, recipes are slipped into the crate as well.

Venice Merchant only came to fruition once enough supporters agreed to buy into the service. The sole delivery truck is on such a tight schedule, it can only handle orders within Venice. However, word of mouth spread and now there’s a Topanga Merchant and a Santa Monica Merchant, too. Brentwood Merchant and Mar Vista Merchant are waiting in the wings. It’s simply a matter of having enough subscribers to make it sustainable.

What makes each Merchant unique is how localized each one is. Santa Monica Merchant gets their baked goods from a Santa Monica baker. Venice sources local as well.

Each crate is unique to its neighborhood, supporting local businesses while maintaining all health department standards. Of course the Merchants go beyond just being up to code. If Jerry living in Sunset Park is making cheese curds out of his bathtub, they’re not likely to make the grade.

Founder Giles Donavan has traveled thousands of miles up and down the state, from the farms, to the fish markets to make sure that only the best fare is put into his customers’ crates. From Topanga to Venice, the company has 600 members and growing. Signing up for the service affords customers more than just the freshest food available. The effort supports local business and small farms as well.

The Merchant business started in Venice, but through Santa Monica Place’s promise to house a grocer, and under the city’s pressure for them to deliver, the strange circumstance situates Santa Monica Merchant on the third floor Marketplace.

The facility affords the business to make almond milk, vegetable stocks, and fresh preserves on site. A butcher license and a license to distribute alcohol are in the works. Some people just want a crate full of meat and beer.

Alongside a chocolatier, wine bar, and other gourmet shops, probably sits the worlds most prime property for a wholesaler. I guess it beats another Starbucks, though.

For more information, visit santamonicamerchant.com.



Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at michael@www.smdp.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek.

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