While Costco, Target and Walmart dominate the business of mainstream groceries, Valley Farm Market is trying to stay ahead of the commodity competition by not only offering USDA Prime Choice meats and organic produce, but also specialty brand sauces, snacks and even craft beer.
Based in Spring Valley, the single unit grocery store has been family-owned for 64 years, carrying local and unique out-of-stand brands for cheese, mustard, candy, drinks, chips, spice blends, and nearly 1,000 different beers of which roughly 70% are local San Diego brands.
“If it’s distributed in San Diego, we have it,” said Derek Marso, the third-generation owner for his grandfather’s market.
But Valley Farm Market is no longer a party of one, having just expanded to La Jolla at 6902 La Jolla Blvd.
“Valley Farm wouldn’t last as a commodity store,” said Marso. “The buying power of places like Costco are so massive. What we needed to do was offer people something they couldn’t find at any other store.”
Marso’s grandfather Felix, also known as “Curly,” was a butcher in Chicago before he and his wife Eleanor moved their family from the windy city to the Golden State, specifically San Diego. Felix opened up Valley Farm as a family-run, community-focused grocery store in 1956. In the 70s, the business was then passed down to Marso’s father and aunt as Marso perused professional football with a full-ride scholarship to Kansas State and a launch pad kickstarting Marso’s career as a defensive end in the NFL. But, eventually, Marso too found a home in his family’s grocery store.
“I had to figure out who I was apart from the sport,” said Marso, who bought the store from his parents in 2008. “It’s been great ever since, creating a culture that’s your own and getting employees excited to come to work.”
Just before Marso took the reins, Valley Farm Market was in bad shape, Marso saying his family was “doing all they could to keep the doors open.” That’s when Marso came up with the idea to have the store sell only specialty products such as Yai's Thai Red Thai Coconut Curry, Vegan Rob's Dragon Puffs, Dudley’s Apple Walnut and Cinnamon Fruit Bars and Fruits Of the Nile Nectar’s Gourmet Mango Orange drinks. Being an avid fan of BBQ, Marso also opened up Valley Farm Market BBQ Shack inside the market. Customers could come to a small window on the side of the market and order Barbeque brisket, pulled pork, tri-tip and additional BBQ sides by the pound.
Last year, Valley Farm’s BBQ was named “San Diego’s Best BBQ” by iHeartRadio. The market’s meat is free of antibiotics and hormones, with the animals raised on a vegetarian diet.
“We’re not a transactional business,” said Marso. “We’re here to be a part of the San Diego neighborhoods. People come into this store and they understand what we do, how we do it and why we do it. It’s not just about staying afloat; we want to support farmers and companies who are doing food right.”
Off North Lane, across from Rigoberto’s Taco Shop, Valley Farm’s seaside La Jolla location features a full-service kitchen — Valley Farm Market Kitchen — with tuna poke nachos with wonton chips, veggie sandwiches fish tacos and a dozen more sandwich and entree choices. In a couple weeks, the new branch will also begin selling craft beers, wine and other alcoholic beverages.
“All we have to do is listen to our community and hear what they want,” said Marso, whose team annually hosts Del Mar’s Turf & Surf BBQ Championships as well as Spring Valley Tailgate and BBQ Festival, where all proceeds are donated to underprivileged children. “Having my own business affords me the luxury of being able to pivot faster than other, bigger stores and invest in our customers. I don’t have to go through meetings or CEOs to get a requested product into the store, or to replace items on our menus. We’re extremely excited about our expansion to La Jolla and the chance to build our family.”
For more information, visit valleyfarmmarkets.com/lajolla.