Brandon Graves may be only 23, but he’s been selling produce long enough to think can support a store that sells only fruits and vegetables.
His theory will be tested in early June, when he opens the Peter Rubi Produce Market at 15412 S. Route 59, located next to . About 30 percent of what Graves sells will be organic, but that number will grow if there’s a demand, he said.
“We’ll see how the Plainfield market responds to it,” Graves said.
Residents have already shown they’re ready to embrace organic foods, as seen by the success of , a business in which organic produce, meat, ice cream and other items are sold from a van that owner Amy Ernst drives through Plainfield neighborhoods and parks at special events.
Susan Bostanche, owner of Sunnyside Antiques, said she’s known Graves since he started selling produce at age 14 at the , which she’s overseen for the last five years. She said she sees Graves’ concept as nothing but a benefit to area residents and local farmers, who have few places other than Amy’s Organics and farmers markets to sell their wares.
“I think Brandon’s going to be an asset to everybody,” Bostanche said.
Graves said he’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur, following in the footsteps of his father, who used to be a wholesale operator and grocery store owner in Chicago, and his maternal grandfather, who used to sell goods to restaurants. He was so caught up in the idea early on that when he was a high school freshman, he would have his father drive him to Chicago to buy fresh produce on Saturday mornings so he could sell it at the farmers market, he said.
“I went to (college) knowing that one day I was going to open a business,” said Graves, who obtained a degree in entrepreneurship/small business ownership from Millikin University in Decatur, one of just two awarded in the new field of study in 2010.
Because he had no assets to use as collateral for a loan, Graves is relying on investors, several of whom are local, he said. His business plan, if he’s successful, calls for him to start with the market, then expand to providing produce to restaurants before adding a residential delivery component, he said.
While the bulk of his business will be fruits and vegetables, Graves said he also will sell some healthy specialty items, such as nuts, honey, almond milk, and coconut and grapeseed oils.
He’ll also coordinate the goods he sells with those sold by Tischler’s so they’re complementing each other rather than competing, he said. And, ideally, customers will come by more than once a week to get the latest, freshest things he has to sell, especially if they’re now driving over Naperville produce markets, he said.
“My goal is I want to you to come in my store,” Graves said. “I don’t want you to have bad produce.”
Plainfield Village Planner Michael Garrigan said he thinks there’s a market for what Graves is trying to do, and he likes some of his ideas, such as placing old-fashioned produce bins in front of the store to advertise his goods.
“If you look at the household incomes and demographics in Plainfield, I think the market for organic foods is pretty strong,” Garrigan said.
That would seem to bear out from the reception Graves has received so far, he said.
“I’ve just been doing word of mouth. What people are telling me is they want me to open tomorrow,” he said.
WHY THE PETER RUBI NAME?
According to Graves’ Web site, peterrubi.com, the name is one that’s well known in the Chicago produce markets. Although no one knows for sure, there are two stories from where the name originates, Graves wrote on his site.
Story One: Peter and his wife Rubi were immigrants who traveled across the Atlantic to live the “American Dream.” When they arrived in the States, they settled in the growing city of Chicago because of the opportunities it presented. Once in Chicago, Peter and Rubi found themselves peddling fresh produce door to door to people in their communities. Their produce was so good that they became very well known in Chicago and everyone wanted to get produce from them.
Story Two: During the earlier parts of the 1900s, when merchants started to gather in one local area to sell their goods in Chicago, produce merchants would have their produce delivered by rail car or by truck. When the product was delivered there would be a box or two missing from the Bill of Laden that the driver would have. When the merchant asked about it, the driver’s response was, “Peter Rubi stole it from my truck/rail car at the last stop.” Peter Rubi became infamous for stealing produce from the delivery men. In reality, the delivery men would actually take that box or two of product home with them for their own families as an “extra” delivery fee.