Farm Fresh Market
Henry Detwiler, 51, known around here as “Henry Sr.,” wants an update on how sales at the new deli counter are going. His daughter, Dorcas Keim, passing by on her way back to the sandwich station, which just recently opened inside the third Detwiler’s Farm Market, tells Detwiler the numbers so far are OK, not spectacular.
“You know how to get that up, right?” Detwiler asks. “Do a deal.” He points to the dozens of neon-colored poster board signs that hang up and down the rows of produce that dominate the front section of the 25,000-square-foot grocery store. The Sharpie ink on one promises a “big sale” on cherries; another advertises sweet corn. One sign dubs peaches “the perfect summer treat delicious & juicy.”
Detwiler’s thinking: Another bright sign might just alert customers that the store is offering something new. Which it keeps on doing. Since opening in February, the third Detwiler’s has already added a full butcher shop and increased its fresh seafood offerings. And now it’s also selling massive hoagies—just the latest expansion in Detwiler’s steady growth from small 10- by 20-foot farm stand to popular local grocery chain.
Growing up in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, just northwest of Philadelphia, Detwiler also grew up in the food business. He worked in his grandfather’s butcher shop, which produced its own capocollo, ham, and other salumi. He learned how to bake bread from his mother. But he found his real passion when he started a farm stand, selling fresh fruit and vegetables.
He moved to Sarasota because his wife, Natalie Detwiler, comes from the area. He brought the farm stand with him. In 2002, he opened for business at Sutter’s Quality Foods, an egg and dairy operation in east Sarasota County. The farm stand later moved to Fruitville Grove and then, in 2008, Detwiler opened up what is still the company’s number one location: the 5,000-square-foot flagship store on Palmer Boulevard. A Venice location opened in 2013.
Throughout, Detwiler’s family has played a major role. Natalie, known as “Moma Detwiler,” runs the bakery at the University Parkway location, and their four sons and five daughters, some of whom are still in school, all pitch in. Sam Detwiler, at 27 a vice president with the company, handles purchasing for all three Detwiler’s locations. Henry Detwiler Jr., 25, runs store operations for the University Parkway location, as well as serving as VP. Caleb Detwiler, 24, manages the Palmer Boulevard shop.
The major appeal of all three Detwiler’s locations? The often silly-cheap prices on fresh produce. Sam explains the grocery’s pricing strategy by referencing a philosophy of Sam Walton: Pressure your suppliers to provide product at the price you need rather than raise prices on your customers. “I know what the customer wants to pay and I sell it for that,” Sam says. If that means buying in massive bulk to get a better price and selling goods with skinnier margins, so be it.
The upside for suppliers is that they know Detwiler’s will help them out, too, taking and selling less-than-perfect fruit and vegetables that might otherwise go to waste. In those cases, the stores’ signage alerts customers to expect flawed fruit. Buyers can snap up a huge carton of blueberries, for example, for $1.99, if they’re willing to dispose of a few mangled berries. The system isn’t just good business; it reduces the absurd waste in our food system.
Detwiler’s carries many of the basics you expect from a grocery store, but usually with a specialty twist. “Our customer base, we’re assuming they want something different brought to the table,” Sam says. For Detwiler’s, that means selling quail eggs, wading deeper into the organic game, offering yogurt brands you can’t find elsewhere. But Sam says the store doesn’t want to just become a niche market, either. The store isn’t just selling to the 20 percent of customers who want specialty goods; it’s also attracting the 80 percent of consumers who come there just to stock up on basics at good prices.
The University Parkway location includes a scratch bakery that cranks out custom baked goods. It also sells Wonder Bread. The new store remains a work in progress. Looking over the meat counter that runs along the back of the store, Henry and Sam chat about the price they’re offering on pork chops. That might have to go up. They talk, too, about figuring out a way to get fresher seafood than they’re getting now.
Henry says there are no plans for another new store on the immediate horizon. They’re still refining things at the University Parkway spot. To get the butcher shop up and running, Henry went back to his earliest food business memories—working with his grandfather to process meat. He wants to add an Italian hoagie based on an old family recipe to the deli counter sometime soon, but he wants to make sure he’s got every detail correct.
“I wait to start pushing something till I feel really comfortable with it,” he says. It’s a business philosophy that has paid off.
► Detwiler’s Farm Market: 6100 N Lockwood Ridge Rd, Sarasota; 6000 Palmer Blvd, Sarasota; 1250 US 41 Bypass, Venice; 941-378-2727; detwilermarket.com