The Journey of Jupiter Foods

Jupiter Foods store

Jupiter Foods, Petaluma, CA

Sitting at Water Street Bistro in early 2014 Howard and I were discussing the lack of quality grocery opportunities in the Petaluma area. We had noticed a small downtown retail space had vacated and was for rent. I conjectured a $40k budget could open such a small space with enough inventory and equipment to make a decent store. That intention set off a series of events. We wanted to sell “Good Groceries” (defined in this blog). Everyone we spoke to encourage the idea and said it was just what the town needed. Having no capitol and little chance of seeing this intention take flight, we entertained the discussion many times to keep it alive.

Dan and Howard Formby

Dan and Howard

Fast forward to May 2016, I had just moved to Petaluma with my then fiancé Howard, we were to be married in October and the path towards setting down deep roots in Sonoma County. My employer asked me when I would be leaving their employ in Napa. That’s the moment I said it out loud, how we planned on opening the small grocery and promised I wouldn’t work for a moment on their dime while trying to work on my own store. I was in the process of selling 102.5 acres of Iowa farm land, land where I grew up but no longer had ties. The money from the sale of the farm would fund my project and the land would stay in the family since I was selling to my brother. I left my job on August 13 of 2016.

The farm did sell, it closed at the end of October 2016, just days after we were married. The hunt was on for a home for Jupiter Foods. Armed with a draft version of my business plan, and a healthy nest egg I set on a quest for retail rental property. I found several spots, knowing each was not best suited but began the process of working with a leasing agent where my needs were shopped at upcoming vacancies. In April of 2017 I signed my intent to lease letter for the space in Theatre Square occupied by Little Luma, a children’s’ toy and clothing store. Before they moved out, I had the architect, designer and contractor inside with preliminary scope of work ideas. These professionals began the work of getting some plans for the build out of the store. The property sits at sea level, near the Petaluma River, the concrete floors have a moisture intrusion barrier applied around four inches under the surface. Adding plumbing would be a challenge. ADR Architects devised a brilliant plan to build the “kitchen” portion of the store using a 10” high platform and coordinating ramps. The plan looked good, until the contractor returned a $303k bid. This was more than I had. A redraw was in order and as October approached our changes for opening in time for Christmas seemed dim. The wildfire storm of October 9, 2017 happened, and all bets were off. The fire delay was more of a long-term delay because for the first few weeks after, we were all about relief and recovery. There was no time for personal work for me, I needed to be in the community. My one employee had gone to North Carolina for a training session with our new point of sale system, she lives in Sonoma and their evacuation was always a possibility. She waited out the fire storm on the east coast, far away from her husband and attended the classes. The redraw was finalized in partial meeting as we pieced together when any of us had the time, the architect was about to get REALLY busy. The final plan was done, and I began calling contractors to bid the build out. Bidding is a delicate dance based on the amount of work they have, the timeline it needs to be completed and the budget. Both contractors came in about the same price, $188k, an amount that was once achievable, but my nest egg was quickly disappearing.

At the end of October, we received an email from the County Health Department. What turned out to be a misunderstanding of the plan was eventually resolved. The resolve came after six more weeks delay.

Now in mid-December with demolition permit in hand, the contractor was ready, but my funds were so seriously depleted I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pay him to the end of the project. I could have done some work but with the necessary TOTAL payable funds, I didn’t want to have a half-finished store.

Bringing “good groceries” to Petaluma has been our dream for many years, when we started this project we thought our $200k savings would fulfill that dream. The $200k got us a good start but now we need more.  We have a space, some product, building plans and permits and a great business plan but need your help to finish the project and get the store built. When it came time to seek investors, we talked with a lot of Petaluma’s best food advocates.

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