With a focus on fresh, healthy foods and extras like delivery and personal advice, Nicholas and Amanda Shepherd feel they have a new and profitable way into the highly competitive grocery industry in Madison.
Their 1,000-square-foot Shepherd's Harvest Community Grocery opened Monday at 6642 Mineral Point Road in the Clock Tower Court Shopping Center.
The West and Far West sides are far from a food desert, with nearby grocers including two Metcalfe's Markets, Woodman's, Aldi, Whole Foods, Pick'n Save, Hy-Vee, Willy Street Co-op, Costco and Pick'n Save, but the Shepherds believe there's an opening for a health food service.
Shepherd's Harvest focuses on fresh, organic, local and natural products, offers delivery and pick up service and that can offer consultations to each customer about every product they're buying or considering.
"It's a big risk," Nicholas Shepherd said. "We're different in a lot of ways but I'm taking that risk and believing in people who will want that quality."
Shepherd's Harvest has no shopping aisles or grocery carts, is absent a hot food bar and deli but does have a seven-foot-long, black leather couch to sit on while orders are being filled by staff from shelves and coolers in the backroom.
Orders can be placed in person, through the store's website, over the phone or by e-mail. Delivery is free for orders over $70; orders over $100 come with a $5 gift card.
Shepherd said he is working with two large wholesalers but vets all of the products to make sure they meet his standards of quality and freshness. He's also working with a number of local vendors and organizations like FEED Kitchens on Madison's North Side and a collective of local farmers that grow produce and chicken, as well as a statewide beef organization.
Local products include Asian seasonings from Madame Chu, Cadence Cold Brew Coffee and dairy products from Organic Valley. One standup cooler was jammed with kale, organic celery, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and lettuce. There were apples picked just four days ago and fresh oranges.
Prices are similar to what one would find at Willy Street Co-op.
"We're not a big-box store," said Shepherd, who invested $25,000 of his own money in the project and purchased a Chevy Volt for delivery runs. "Friendly service, quality goods and ease of access is going to win out. We're doing something that's different and innovative. That's always going to breed skeptics, but I believe the cornerstone of good business starts with innovation."
Shepherd, 32, grew up in South Milwaukee and Amanda, 24, in Verona. After high school, Shepherd's mother moved to Madison where he studied agriculture at UW-Madison. After graduating, he went to work for a pharmaceutical company and later a petroleum firm, but his time in college studying genetic modification, crop sciences and grazing and feed practices opened his eyes to the world of food.
Part of his goal with the new store is to help educate consumers about their food and to create meal plans for his customers.
"I really want to get back to the roots of food," Shepherd said. "Instead of walking the aisles yourself, you're meeting with someone who is knowledgeable about the food. When you're coming here, you're getting the freshness and you're getting someone who is going to be able to inform you."