When Cara Piscitello and Joy Rubey began a local food delivery service in June 2011, they set out to create a system that would benefit northwest Washington farmers and food suppliers.
As they developed the model that would eventually become ACME Farms and Kitchen, they realized that to accomplish that goal they would need to approach their business from a perspective usually thought to be completely opposite.
“We’re the consumer, we’re the demographic, we’re the target audience. That’s what we just stuck with,” Rubey said. “We created this basically for ourselves, and we gambled on the fact that there’s got to be people like us out there.”
Now in their second year in business, Piscitello and Rubey are moving into a 5,400-square-foot location in the Dahlquist Building at 1313 N. State St. in downtown Bellingham.
The new storefront will eventually include a commercial kitchen, a distribution facility, an event space and an office. They plan to open by late June.
ACME operates almost entirely with consumers in mind.
Members of the service, which supplies local food to more than 300 people in Whatcom County, purchase weekly orders online that are delivered straight to their homes.
The owners grow about 90 percent of the company’s produce and raise bison on a 115-acre plot of land in the county. They also buy from more than 30 food growers and suppliers, most of which are located within 100 miles of Bellingham.
Piscitello said they started the business in order to connect their members with the source of their food and also to get them out of the supermarket.
“They can do almost all of their grocery shopping online with us and buy all local,” she said.
“The locavore box”
The service’s “locavore box” is by far its most popular product.
Each box includes a selection of meat, seafood, bread, pasta, cheese, eggs, dairy and seasonal produce. Boxes also include recipes for meals that can be created with the “locavore” ingredients.
Rubey said ACME’s first year in operation was used as more of a test run to see how well customers would respond.
Initially, they didn’t offer prepackaged boxes or meal plans. Instead they allowed people to just pick whatever produce they’d want off the company’s website.
They realized fairly quickly that in order to get more people eating local, they would have to not only sell food but also help people learn to cook with the food they offered.
“We rolled it out and we realized – they actually want us to tell them what to eat,” Rubey said. “Our focus has shifted to putting more local meals on the table, rather than just selling produce.”
Giving their members more direction also helped them clear hurdles in their supply process, including getting people used to cooking and consuming more uncommon food products such as homogenized milk, raw beans and bread made without preservatives.
A new storefront
Once ACME Farms and Kitchen moves into its new location, it will be one of the first businesses inside the neglected Dahlquist Building, which has a long history on State Street but has remained mostly empty for years.
Along with ACME, Dashi Noodle Bar, a downtown Asian restaurant located on Unity Street – run by Josh Silverman, the former owner and chef of the upscale Nimbus restaurant that closed in July 2011 – will move into the building this summer.
Rubey said the move to the heart of Bellingham would help them get more face-to-face time with their members.
It will also provide a central base for delivery. Until now, the company has had to coordinate deliveries between members, suppliers and its farm in Acme, which has proved challenging, Rubey said.
Piscitello said the commercial kitchen space will allow them to expand the business to create “value-added” items such as sauces and dressings.
They also plan to make the kitchen available to local chefs, food-truck vendors and others who need commercial cooking space.
The new location should serve as a good spot to develop the next phase of their business, Piscitello said, offering pre-prepped or even pre-prepared meals for members in order to make the mission of ACME Farms and Kitchen much simpler to accomplish.
Getting people hooked on eating local is a multi-faceted process, Rubey said.
By keeping members out of grocery stores, they can help reduce the amount of food that winds up going to waste, while saving their members money, she said.
Piscitello said developing all the tools to help consumers eat local helps people conquer the time-draining drawback of having to run to the supermarket multiple times each week just to get enough ingredients to put meals on the table.
“The biggest obstacle for people eating more local food is time. It’s time for shopping, time for cooking, time for meal planning,” Piscitello said.
“If we can eliminate the majority of that time spent, then we’ve run out of excuses.”