Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dixon produce stand is worth a stop

Dixon produce stand is worth a stop
ShareThisBy Gina Kim
Published: Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2009

Pedrick Produce owner Henry Barraza, who started the operation selling corn with wife Frances in 1989, always has a smile for his customers. Below, two A-list reasons to smile for spring's arrival: avocados and asparagus. PAUL KITAGAKI JR./

It's difficult to identify the source of an underlying hum inside Pedrick Produce in Dixon. Perhaps it's the rumbling of Interstate 80 nearby. Maybe it's the orchestral rustling of plastic bags, clacking of red shopping baskets and cacophony of cash registers.

Or it could simply be the allure of spring, which means the vegetable-laden tables are beginning to hold more local produce. And because of that, more people are stopping in.

This classic produce stand is nestled next to a Chevron station on the north side of the freeway in what looks like an airplane hangar made of corrugated metal. Henry Barraza and his wife, Frances, started selling corn – 10 ears for a dollar – from the spot in August 1989.

Today, the store sells a mélange of goods: dried papaya and mango slices, Spring Hill cheeses, pomegranate jam, amaranth, white rice flour, steel-cut oats, a full line of Zatarain's products, some 200 hot sauces (including a few that require a signed release before tasting) and perfect-to-munch-on- during-road trips food like flavored pistachios, red licorice sticks, gummy bears and saltwater taffy.

But the soul of the business remains the rainbow of fresh produce – carefully stacked on tables and in open, refrigerated cases. Although Barraza no longer picks up his goods from individual growers and now orders apples by the 2,000-pound pallet, he still knows his almonds are from Woodland, mung bean sprouts from Dixon and avocados from Fallbrook, just north of San Diego.

Barraza ekes business out of a pit stop by making it worthwhile for people to get out of their cars – right now, it's a 6-pound box of strawberries for $5.99 that is setting off brake lights.

"We would rather have a very little markup and make a lot more people happy," says Barraza, 51, whose smile takes over his entire face.

Other deals include a 10-pound bag of oranges for $5.99, nine kiwi for 99 cents, a bunch of spinach for $1.39, cauliflower for $2.39 a head and walnuts for $2.99 a pound.

Local produce whenever possible

"It's cheaper than Costco," says Faramarz Sepahmansour of Los Gatos, as he holds up a bag of walnuts. Sepahmansour and his wife stop into the market on their monthly trips to Sacramento from the Bay Area to pick up nuts and produce.

"We generally eat a Mediterranean-foods diet, so we like all the fresh vegetables and fruits," says his wife, Karen. "We like things to be natural."

The store carries local and California-grown when possible. Right now, there is the first crop of asparagus from Lodi, artichokes from Castroville and greens from Salinas; the bell peppers and zucchini are still from Mexico.

Specialty items are generally from small, local producers. There are jars of garlic olives from Porterville, jellies from Rancho Cordova, tortillas from Woodland and honey from Sacramento.

It just seems to taste better

Tina Bastin, a stay-at-home mom from Davis, stops into the store whenever she makes a trip to the nearby Wal-Mart. She swears the produce seems more flavorful and riper than what she finds in regular grocery stores.

"Instead of buying rock-hard peaches, I come here and they're ready to eat, and taste better," she says.

And whenever she walks into the store through the double doors, someone says "Good morning" or "Good afternoon."

"We try to focus on customer service," says Barraza. "People can go anywhere and buy broccoli, but if we make them feel good, they'll buy it from us."