When Kim and Hollis Smith opened Kim’s Produce in a storefront on Woodward Avenue in Midtown last year, they often had time to play Scrabble while waiting for the door to open.
These days, the Scrabble board might spell b-u-s-y, because the Detroit couple have attracted a growing clientele for the fresh fruits and vegetables — and much more — in a store that’s like a fresh breeze in the neighborhood.
The duo, who met when both were in the military police in the Navy in Mississippi, had never owned a business. “We didn’t know anything,” Hollis says. “We were so naive, we had no clue about laying out a grocery store.”
That’s probably a good thing, he says, because they forged ahead not realizing how tough it was to establish a small business.
They did know produce, however. Kim grew up on a farm in Maryland, and when the couple moved to Michigan after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their house in Mississippi, she ran a roadside produce stand in Ann Arbor for a while.
Ann Arbor really didn’t need another produce stand, though. But Detroit did. Hollis, a Highland Park police officer currently on parental leave, saw the need firsthand. The couple, who have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, just doubled their family in January when they became parents of twins.
They opened in January 2010 with “$70 in the drawer” and the goal of bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to people who live in the apartments and lofts in the Wayne State area, and have steadily added much more to the shelves, searching out small producers in Southeast Michigan and sticking as much as possible to organic products.
They sell organic ice cream made in small batches by Chantae Fowler; vegan soups by Nezaa Bandele; bread from Superior Bread in Livonia; and milk from Calder Dairy.
Hollis drives to Ann Arbor to meet a farmer and pick up the organic beef from Hiday Farms south of Battle Creek. During the cold months, he shops at the Detroit Produce Terminal, then switches to the Eastern Market in May when the local farmers come in.
“Local” is almost a religion for the Smiths and their employees.
In addition to the produce and dairy products, the shop has added wrap sandwiches, freshly squeezed juices, and desserts to the menu. And they provide the lunches for nearby KidSpace Montessori school and deliver groceries to the apartment dwellers at the Park Shelton and the Washington Square building in Detroit.
The façade of the store will soon stand out from the other storefronts on the block. Students at the nearby College for Creative Studies are competing to create a mural that will give Kim’s Produce a bright street presence.
4206 Woodward, Detroit; 313-831-1960.