Thursday, July 15, 2010

Warning: Eating Local Foods May Cause Good Health and Euphoric Feelings

Ann inside her Local D'lish grocery store

This blog is dedicated to all things we might experience on our NoMi voyage: good, bad and ugly.

Thank Heavens today we can enjoy some of the good.

I am metaphorically doing cartwheels of pride and excitement for my dear bestie Ann Yin. This woman is such a force of good and she is determined to share it with the world. And she is succeeding, too. And with plenty of help and support from her hubby, "Honey", and their delightful little daughter, CC, who has already been made a Jordan neighborhood blog celebrity. Here. And here. And here, again. And most especially, here. Oh, but then there's this cute one here(Ok, I'll stop now! But there's never too much of CC!)

"Honey" and CC at the General Store at Mill City Farmers Market

Today the big daily paper featured a full length article on the work The Yins have been doing at their small grocer Local D'lish. I have shared the article here below. And of course I have to urge you readers to go there and see for yourself. It's really a special place. Matter of fact, while it is summer, head down to Mill City Farmers Market and find the Local D'lish General Store, say Hi to Stefan Meyer (who is a leader in urban farming) and then make your way to the brick and mortar store front in North Loop and explore that fun little district, too.

The General Store is bigger than it appears!

Ann - you make us all proud to call you a friend and neighbor - and we are glad to claim Local D'lish with a little Jordan-NoMi connection!

Grocer specializes in stocking small-town flavor in the big city

Ann Yin is creating a piece of small-town nostalgia in a tiny storefront in the North Loop district of downtown Minneapolis.

It's an old-time grocery store, appropriately dubbed Local D'Lish, that specializes in food items grown or packaged by local producers and focuses on friendly, personal relationships with the clients who inhabit the condominiums and townhouses abounding in that part of the city.

Local D'Lish is a long shot away from your typical supermarket: There's just 2,000 square feet of space, a limited inventory -- so far -- and a decided absence of the aisle after aisle of canned goods we're familiar with nowadays.

The emphasis is on fresh, as in meats butchered yesterday, eggs gathered this morning, veggies delivered within hours after they're picked and, of course, bread delivered fresh daily, all by local producers.

And that's not all: There's fettuccini from Hibbing, Minn., rice from Spooner, Wis., wheat flour, dried cereals and baking mixes from Welcome, Minn., and milk, eggs and cheese delivered by locals "all over the Upper Midwest," Yin said. Not to mention candy produced in Prior Lake and soaps from a supplier in Hudson, Wis.

In all, Yin has assembled a supply chain that includes nearly 150 area farmers and what she calls "small-batch producers."

Of course, produce is shipped from outside the region during the winter. And the coffee beans Yin sells are grown in Guatemala.

"But the beans are owned by a Twin Citian who roasts them fresh weekly," she was quick to point out. In all, Yin estimates that 90 percent of her wares are locally produced, many of them organic.

Yin, 42, conceives the business as a combination of a farmers market and a gourmet shop. And against all odds, including the fact that the store's parking requires plugging the meters out front on N. 1st Street, the business is growing.

In 2009, its first full year, Local D'Lish grossed $190,000. And 2010 sales are on track to reach $210,000 -- or more, if Yin goes through with plans to open a delicatessen in the store later this summer.

Better yet, the business is profitable, although Yin has yet to pay herself a salary. Instead, she plows the profits back into the store to finance her strategy of "growing a bit each month" with additional inventory, often added at the request of customers. Her husband, Yulin, pays the bills with a job as a software developer.

Nonetheless, Yin questioned her decision as the recession deepened. She persevered, however, because "I'm a chronic positive thinker."

Yin figures that a lively interest in the local-food movement, evidenced by a growing number of farmers markets and recent movie documentaries and books on the subject, will help the business continue growing.

In short, "there's an interest in going back to the days when we knew where our food came from -- when we knew the producers, the butchers, the grocers," she said.

It's all a part of the "personal touch that customers truly appreciate," said one of the Local D'Lish regulars, Kirsten Sparks. "If she doesn't carry something you want, she'll go and find it. She's really responsive."

Bringing community together

Yin's approach to promoting the business is also bringing the North Loop community together, said Bob Wheaton, another customer who lives in the neighborhood.

"She supports the community" with 10 to 12 fundraisers a year, he said, and "brings people together" to listen to talks about nutrition or to hear a chef discuss Italian cuisine, among other activities. She has even hosted a Christmas party for the residents of one condominium development.

And to assure good attendance at her fundraisers, Yin offers such lures as cooking demonstrations and, in one case, a scavenger hunt through the store.

Wheaton summed it up with a brief observation: "Ann's incredible."

Yin had long wanted to start her own business. Her choice was inspired by six months she and her family spent in China in 2006 living with her husband's family. It was an effort to introduce their daughter to her grandparents and to her father's native language and culture.

"Every day my in-laws would walk to a local market, similar to our farmers markets here in Minnesota, to buy the day's fresh meat, eggs and veggies," Yin said. "We loved it -- the good smells, the friendly people, the feeling of life and energy. What a great way to start a day."

She chose to locate in the North Loop "because I was looking for a neighborhood feel, a place where people walk to your store and get to know you," Yin said. And it didn't hurt that her landlord, condo developer Jim Stanton, offered a break on the rent to provide his clients with a handy grocery source.

Nearby retailers like Local D'Lish "help condos sell faster," Stanton said. "Besides, I don't have a mortgage [on the building Yin occupies], so I'm able to offer a little better rent."

Dick Youngblood • 612-673-4439 •

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