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[November 21, 2012]
Local Boys pride themselves in local freshness and quality
Nov 21, 2012 (Kitsap Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Nothing beats the snappy crunch of a fresh apple, the sweet taste of a juicy melon or the ripened goodness of a just-picked berry. To get any of the above along with plenty of other fresh produce, dairy and more -- nothing beats Local Boys Fruit and Produce, located at 6702 Tyee Drive, near the Bridgeway Market on the corner of Purdy Drive and Highway 302, just before the Purdy Spit bridge.
The produce stand, operated by father and son, Robert and Trevor Jones respectively, of Gig Harbor, has been a mainstay on the peninsula for the past 10 years -- the first seven with a tent upon a 20-foot by 30-foot swath of pavement closer to the road than their now permanent stand.
Three years ago they remodeled an existing building to look like a tent, with an open feel, but with a much bigger footprint of 4,500 square feet inside and out.
And they utilize just about every square inch. From floor to eye height (and sometimes higher) are displays filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, custom-made chips and salsa -- there's always an open bag for sampling, jams and jellies, wine, eggs and milk -- all of it farm fresh and guaranteed local.
Moving from a tent to a building made for a number of improvements. "It's a little easier to set up," Trevor said, noting that with the tent, they had to set up and take down everything every day. The change also allowed them to bring in a freezer and cooler that expanded their line of products.
The permanent facility also has given them the opportunity to expand through the addition of other services, such as Ray's Meats, an on-site butcher. The duo plans to have a fresh fish market in place by spring, Robert said. "We'll sell fresh fish caught that day. What can beat that " The plan is to sell a variety of seafood including salmon, crab, oysters and shrimp.
Robert estimates they work with between 50 and 60 local farmers and vendors to provide the best possible products for their customers.
"We play a trick on our customers," Robert smiled. "We give them the best, but they've got to come back." The best includes a number of trademarked products, such as Orange Creamcicle melons (Local Boys is the only place you can find it in the state), Mahogany cherries, Perfect peaches, Unbelievable corn and Vanilla Ice melons.
"You put your name on the line when you put your name on (the product)," Trevor said. He added they sold 33 tons of the Orange Creamcicle melons this year. "That kind of dumbfounds us when we look at that." When raspberries are in season, they have flats delivered literally on an hourly basis.
"Our fruit and produce is brought in every day," Trevor said. "They don't arrive in a semi cooler. It's from the farm to us." They also work with small farms across Pierce County to sell raw milk and fresh eggs. Other farmers provide rhubarb, heirloom tomatoes, basil and lettuce.
Along with the produce, they put their name on custom jams and jellies, tortilla chips and salsa, syrups and wines. Given the shelf life of these products, they are popular for shipping all across the country, Robert said.
"Anything that is grown locally, we can get," he said. "Citrus is the only thing we can't get." To assure freshness, Trevor is the official taste tester, Robert said. "We have our own apple cider. When he opens a bottle and smells the cider, he smiles." Some of the growers have been with Robert for 35 years -- back when he owned and operated Tacoma Boys on 6th Avenue -- while they are always on the hunt for new suppliers, such as a cranberry grower they just picked up this year near Westport. They also added pumpkins a year ago, Trevor said, and sales have picked up with the gourds.
While they stay strictly local for the fresh foods, they're willing to travel around the world for other items, working with family-owned companies in Singapore to sell imported pottery.
"We've got to have our unique items to survive," Trevor said. "Everybody can sell grapes and bananas." The farm fresh fruit and produce season runs from April through October. Spring is also their season for flower sales and hanging baskets.
They close up for a couple of weeks in November to make the transition to selling Christmas trees, centerpieces and wreaths. The same quality they seek in the produce goes into the trees.
Tree sales run from mid-November until Dec. 24.
They sell flocked and green trees ranging from 2 feet to 16 feet in height. Their trees come from farms in Shelton, Chehalis and Winlock and include Douglas, Fraser, noble and grand firs.
The pair also has tree lots on Highway 302 and Pacific in Federal Way, the Kmart parking lot on 6th Avenue in Tacoma, and the corner of Steilacoom Boulevard and Bridgeport.
During this time they will continue to sell frozen corn, peas, berries and peaches, along with wine, milk and eggs at their Purdy location. "We sell an amazing volume of milk," Robert noted.
Robert started Local Boys with just Christmas trees in 2000 and expanded to produce in 2002. But his history in pedaling produce goes back a number of years.
He first started selling daffodils in Puyallup when he was 10. He soon expanded to a dozen flower stands and by the time he was in college he had 180 flowers stands from Tacoma to Seattle.
His practice of hiring young people to man the stands was cultivated during this time. He said the key was they were well trained and knew how to talk well.
"Business was good," he said. "Christmas during the break, fruit in the summer and flowers on weekends." He remembers his first sign advertised "Seasonal specialties: fruit, flowers, fireworks and Christmas trees." He opened Tacoma Boys and grew it into the largest fruit stand by volume in the country. Robert sold that business years ago, but he wasn't done and he opened Local Boys in 2000.
Trevor graduated from Gig Harbor High School in 2004 and joined his dad in the business as the store manager.
Running a successful fruit stand doesn't mean standing around polishing apples all day. Trevor said it's routine to put in 14-hour days, and the stand is open seven days a week.
"In this business, you can't take time off and smoke a cigar," Robert said. "You have to be here. You are a prisoner." Robert's reputation of hiring high school students continues to this day. The number varies with the changing seasons. They total 20 part-time and fulltime employees. He said they work in different departments, depending on their knowledge and skills. "They are very well informed and know what to say on a particular product," he said.
The bottom line is keeping the customer satisfied. "Our growers know what we want. If it isn't up to par, we won't sell it and our customers are happy with that," Robert said. "You give them the best and they've got to come back.
"A customer coming back tomorrow is what's important." ___ (c)2012 the Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, Wash.) Visit the Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, Wash.) at www.kitsapsun.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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