Sunday, March 21, 2021

Detwiler's - A Farmer's Market and So Much More

Winn-Dixie #604 / Detwiler's Farm Market #4
1800 US 301, Palmetto, FL

     For over 7 years now I've been visiting and documenting the supermarkets of Florida for the purposes of this blog (and most importantly, for your enjoyment). While the Floridian supermarket scene isn't as robust with variety as it once was, I've still managed to see a lot over these last 7 years - from the fancy to the strange to the outdated and dilapidated and everything in between. While Florida is without a doubt Publix territory, every once and a while we find an interesting little supermarket tucked away in a pocket of this state that brings something different to the table. That's where Detwiler's Farm Market comes into the picture - a small 5-store chain of "farmers markets and so much more" scattered around the Bradenton/Sarasota area - a chain with a unique approach to selling groceries and a fiercely loyal following - the perfect recipe for finding a niche in the unusual Floridian supermarket scene.

     Without having said much about this store yet, I'm hoping these last two photos of the exterior are giving you a good impression of what to expect once we step inside this building. When you think of a "farmers market", most people's first thoughts would gravitate to the image of a little roadside stand that resembles an open pavilion more than a true "store", selling a lot of produce and maybe a few other locally made items. While Detwiler's started out as something similar to that, they decided to modernize and go all-out over the last few years, resulting in these crazy supermarkets with a farm-like charm. For the people who've been reading this blog for a while, you know I really like to see supermarkets that go all-out with a theme. Albertsons' Grocery Palace decor is one of my all-time favorite grocery store interiors due to its outlandishness, and I like seeing stores do something crazy like that to be different. While Detwiler's may not be Grocery Palace level crazy, what we'll see inside is quite fun - the barn-shaped exterior and giant windmill out front being our preview. However, before we head inside, let's talk a little about the history of Detwiler's and this building too:

     This article has a really nice write-up of the history of Detwiler's, although I'll do a quick summary of my own here. Like most farmer's markets, Detwiler's Farm Market began as a simple produce stand located under a tent on the side of the road. Growing up on a farm, Detwiler's founder Henry Detwiler Sr. felt that owning a produce stand was the best job for him. After bouncing through various jobs through the years, Henry Detwiler Sr. finally decided to return to his farming roots in 2002 with the opening of his new produce stand on Sutters Egg Farm in Sarasota, later relocating his market to Sarasota's Fruitville Grove as business grew (some pictures of the early markets can be seen here). The new roadside market was extremely successful, drawing shoppers from all over the Sarasota area. However, after going through a rent hike for the property the roadside market sat on in 2008, the land owner again tried to raise the market's rent for the 2009 season. Henry Detwiler Sr. wasn't willing to accept another rent hike, so he chose to not renew his lease for 2009, stating that his company will "make it somewhere else". The decision to not renew the lease for the roadside stand led Henry Detwiler Sr. to a site at 6000 Palmer Boulevard in Sarasota, which in September 2009, became the first official location of the newly renamed Detwiler's Farm Market. At only 5,000 square feet, the original Detwiler's was nothing like the store we'll be touring today. As business at the Palmer Boulevard store began to spike, Henry Detwiler Sr. began his quest to expand. In 2013, the second Detwiler's store opened in Venice - a 10,000 square foot location that while bigger, was similar to the original in being a traditional farmer's market focused on mostly produce sales. With the success of the Venice location, Detwiler's decided to go even bigger with their third store, that third location setting the template for the Detwiler's stores of today. Opening in late 2014, the new 27,000 square foot Lockwood Ridge Detwiler's was the first to feature the company's "farmer's market and so much more" concept, featuring not only produce, but also fresh baked goods, a butcher shop, and a full selection of organic groceries and health and beauty products.

     Following the wild success of the Lockwood Ridge store, the Detwiler's weren't going to stop there. For the fourth location, the one we'll be touring today, the family aimed even larger. Purchasing a long-vacant 50,000 square foot Winn-Dixie, the Palmetto Detwiler's was to be the company's flagship when it opened in July 2018. As we'll see throughout today's post, this store really lives up to the hype. I really enjoyed my visit to Detwiler's, and it's a store I really wish I loved closer to, as I would shop here all the time if so. After the opening of the Palmetto store, Detwiler's opened a fifth location on Clark Road in Sarasota in 2019, which was designed in the same vein as the Palmetto store. At 5 stores currently, Detwiler's is still looking for expansion opportunities, such as potential sites for a new store in North Port/Port Charlotte as well as expansion or relocation opportunities for the very small Venice location.

     Even with a new barn-shaped facade, a windmill, and some other rustic farm-like touches, you can still see some faint traces of this building's previous life as a Winn-Dixie. Prior to Detwiler's modifications, this was a typical 90's Winn-Dixie Marketplace building. Opening in 1999, this Winn-Dixie replaced an older location down the street. The Winn-Dixie Marketplace lasted until a closing wave in 2010, the building sitting empty until Detwiler's arrival in 2018. Outside of saving some of the original facade (like the piece with the "Eat Fresh for Less!" tagline on it), Detwiler's did a thorough gut and rebuild of the interior. Stepping inside, you'd never know Winn-Dixie once occupied this building.

     Stepping onto the store's front walkway, we find the sidewalk filled with both product and props. Near the doors themselves were bins of produce, with the walkway further down filled with furniture pieces, namely some chairs like the ones pictured here.

     Speaking of props, this was one of two vintage tractors on display at this store, the other tractor (a red one) visible a few photos back. Like I said, Detwiler's went all out with decor and props in this store, so adding a few vintage tractors to the mix really helps solidify the farmer's market feel. I think Farmer Teddy up there on the tractor would agree with me about that too!

     In classic farmer's market style, bins of produce lined the outside of the store near the entrance, a lot of these bins featuring produce specials for the week or items that were in-season (and my visit happened in the fall, so there were lots of pumpkins, gourds, and apples to be found here at that time of year).

     Stepping through the front doors, here's our first look at Detwiler's interior. Entering the store, you find yourself in a very expansive produce department, the bulk of which is located behind me. This photo looks toward the front end and the ice cream shop, which we'll see more of later in the post.

     Going inside just a little further, here's another look toward the ice cream shop, buried behind those bins of apples. It was the beginning of apple season when I visited this store, and Detwiler's was advertising a big sale on fresh apples from New York during my visit, so there were a lot of apples to be found here this day. I will say, the apples appeared to be farm fresh, as a lot of them still had leaves sticking off the stems, which is something you never see on apples at the regular grocery store!

     While apples are a farmer's market staple every fall, let's begin to take a look at what makes Detwiler's unique as a store. As we make our rounds of the interior, we'll see that Detwiler's went all out with decor, with every department getting a unique treatment of some kind. Since produce is one of Detwiler's most important features, this department got special decor treatment including a large mural that wraps around the entire department. The above photo and the few photos to follow all showcase the produce department mural, which depicts a large farm scene. Fittingly, this first piece of the mural we see above shows a farmer's market. I'm not sure if the market in the mural is supposed to depict the original produce stand that evolved into Detwiler's, or if it's just a generic picture of a farmer's market.

     The mural wraps around the corner, although part of it gets blocked by the giant windmill prop above the produce coolers.

     Rounding the corner, we find a 3D barn element incorporated into the mural

     The barn doors open to reveal a chalkboard with a handwritten message on it. Homemade signs are another classic farmer's market feature, and it's something that Detwiler's has really embraced as one of the store's distinctive traits. In addition to the large chalkboard, Detwiler's uses handwritten signs on neon poster board to advertise products, prices, and sales, and you'll see these (sometimes humorous or snarky) homemade signs everywhere in the store. These signs are a fun way for Detwiler's to embrace its farmer's market roots in this more modern setting.

     Stepping away from the wall, here's another overview of the produce department. It looks like Detwiler's was running a good sale here, as that display of Minneola Tangelos is looking quite depleted. While Florida is famous for growing all kinds of citrus crops, the Minneola Tangelo (also known as the honeybell orange) is considered to be Florida's signature fruit, with its distinctive sweet taste. If you live up north and a Floridian relative sends you one of those cheesy citrus gift sets for Christmas, you'll most likely be ending up with a box containing some Minneola Tangelos.

     However, when it comes to sales on fruit grown in New York and fruit grown in Florida, it's like comparing apples and oranges. (Why AFB, why...) Anyway, now that I've found a way to slip that in, here's a look from the produce department toward the back of the store, where we see the butcher shop in the distance. We'll get to the butcher shop in a moment, however, let's finish making our way through produce:

     At the back of the produce department, we find this large display of "yellow curvy things" (so I guess I've been calling this fruit by the wrong name all these years! 😄) I liked how Detwiler's had a little sense of humor with their signs, which makes the shopping experience much more fun.

     From the back right corner of the store, here's an overview of the entire produce department. This department is quite large, so the far left side of it actually got cut off in the image.

     Between produce and the butcher shop was the fresh fruit counter, behind which the cut fruits, fruit salads, and such were prepared. Unfortunately, a cart of yellow curvy things is blocking our view of the side of the counter!

     This was something I'd never seen before. Detwiler's had a large display of pineapples, and in the middle of the pineapple display was this machine. When purchasing a pineapple, instead of cutting and coring it at home, shoppers had the option to place their pineapple in this machine which would do all the hard work for them. You can see how the machine works in this video - it's quite interesting to see the process, actually.

     Before moving onto another department, here's one last look toward produce, the pineapple machine visible (although from behind) in the foreground.

     Since we're nearing the seafood counter, it's only fitting that's where we'd find this boatload of deals! (Sorry, but this place is providing me with good pun-making material). I'm not entirely sure if the merchandise in the boat directly ties to the nearby seafood counter, but it makes for a unique display piece though!

     Turning around from the previous photo, here's a look at Detwiler's seafood counter, officially titled as the "Fish Market".

     Around the corner from the Fish Market is the Butcher Shop, which was extremely popular when I was here. I should point out though, even on this weekday afternoon of my visit, the place was hopping with customers in all parts of the store. Detwiler's stores are extremely popular, and after experiencing the place for myself, I can see why. Including this location, I've since been to two Detwiler's stores in my travels, and both were just as packed during my off-peak visits. Detwiler's runs a high quality store, and it shows. With 3,000 Google reviews, the Palmetto Detwiler's has a 4.8 out of 5 star rating on Google - a very impressive feat for a grocery store.

     Here's an overview of the back right corner of the store, with a little bit of the seafood mural poking out in the background. While we're in this corner of the store, I'd like to note something about the decor - I'm pretty sure it's all homemade, which is quite impressive for a look as intricate and detailed as this. The letters for all the department signs appear to be hand-cut, and many of them seem to have small imperfections from the way they were cut out of the wood. However, I'm not saying any of this to be critical - the homemade designs and imperfections really add to the charm of the store, and make this decor look better than if prefabricated signs were used.

     Leaving the butcher counter, we find some coolers with prepackaged meats lining the back of the store, with the dairy department in the distance.

     In addition to the full selection of service departments, another way Detwiler's has transformed into a "farmer's market and so much more" is by offering a full selection of dry groceries, an aisle of which can be seen here. However, unlike Publix or Winn-Dixie, the dry groceries at Detwiler's skew toward organic, natural, and locally produced products, a selection curated in that manner not really a surprise from a store that began as a farmers market.

    While we've seen Detwiler's ice cream shop already, here's a much better picture of it. In addition to ice cream, Detwiler's ice cream shop also sells smoothies, fruit salads, and soups.

     Turning to the right, here's a look across Detwiler's front end. Including health and beauty, I believe Detwiler's had about 6-7 grocery aisles total, which extend out to my right.

     Another way Detwiler's tried to incorporate a little more fun into this store was with the aisle markers. Instead of numbering the aisles, Detwiler's chose to name all the aisles after various produce items, such as "Jalapeno Hollow" seen here. A few photos back we saw "Radicchio Road", and "Tomato Terrace" is visible in the background of this photo. So if you stop by the Palmetto Detwiler's and you need to pick up a can of beans, look no further than Jalapeno Hollow!

     Detwiler's bakery is located in the front left corner of the building, in approximately the same location where Winn-Dixie would have had its bakery.

     We'll get back to the bakery in a moment, but first let's take a diversion through the frozen foods aisle. The frozen foods aisle didn't get a produce-related name like the other grocery aisles, however, custom category markers shaped like a barn roof were made to be hung over the coolers.

     Dairy is located in the back left corner of the store, seen here. Since this is the dairy department...

     …it's only fitting we find a giant cow back here! From the looks of it, Detwiler's appears to have one-upped Albertsons dairy decor from Grocery Palace. While Grocery Palace had a barn, unfortunately, there wasn't a cow to call that barn home!

     The dairy signage is located atop the roof of the barn, with a (proportionally oversized) rooster and his coop joining the cow, well, because why not?

     Unfortunately, the health and beauty department doesn't bring us any decor to top that of the dairy department, with this round metal sign being the extent of the health and beauty decor.

     In the front left corner of the building is the Farmhouse Bakery. While a full-service bakery was a later addition to Detwiler's lineup (not appearing until the 2014 opening of the Lockwood Ridge store), Detwiler's bakery has proven to be quite popular for its homemade baked goods.

     As you probably know, a lot of AFB's perception of a supermarket hangs on the quality of the baked goods. Since this was my first visit to Detwiler's, I had to sample something from the bakery, which led me to purchase a chocolate chip brownie (a nice ending for my taco lunch, which was featured in this post on My Florida Retail in November 2020). The brownie did not disappoint, so Detwiler's bakery gets a thumbs up from me!

     Beyond the bakery we find the sub shop and deli counter. Before I discovered the taco place down the street, my original lunch plan for the day was to try one of the sandwiches here. While that plan changed, I can say the sandwiches looked good from what I saw, but the taste will have to be an experience for another day.

     A little more of the barn roof theme can be found here at the deli counter, although not quite as elaborately as we saw in the produce and dairy departments.

     In front of the deli department were a few coolers of prepackaged deli foods, as well as that island, which was home to the sushi counter.

     Although the final image turned out a bit unfocused, here's a closeup photo of the sushi island.

     Considering everything we've seen throughout the rest of the store, it's only fitting the restroom signage took on a creative, farm-themed design too!

     Here's one final photo looking across the back of the store as we begin to make our way out.

     Heading back toward the bakery and deli, here's one last glimpse at these departments before we round the corner toward the check lanes.

     As we pass the bakery, the front end reappears before us.

     To the side of the main check lanes was the service desk and a few express check out lanes. Since a plain counter is boring, Detwiler's decided to place these services inside of grain silos instead!

     In addition to the service desk and express lanes, there were 9 regular check lanes spanning the front end. I could easily see lines at all these lanes on a Saturday afternoon here, as my weekday afternoon visit proved to be quite brisk with shoppers!

     Completing our look at all the barn-shaped signs in this store, we have this large hand-painted thank you sign above the front check lanes.

     Besides the few exterior remnants outside, one of the only very distinctive Winn-Dixie features Detwiler's kept in their remodel was the design of the exit vestibule.

     The exit vestibule still contains the concave shape from Winn-Dixie, with the original swinging doors in place too. The two center doors were still in use for shoppers to exit, although I don't remember if the two entry doors to either side of the exit ones were still in use by Detwiler's.

     Back outside, we've completed our tour of Detwiler's Farm Market of Palmetto. This place is definitely quirky and unique, and that's part of what makes this store so popular with the people who live in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. Even though Detwiler's has evolved so much from its roots as a roadside produce stand, the company's founder, Henry Detwiler Sr., still doesn't like to hear his stores referred to as a "supermarket". He much prefers the term "farmer's market and so much more" that I've used many times throughout this post, and that phraseology is quite true. Detwiler's really is a "farmer's market and so much more", as the company still embraces its farmer's market roots even as the stores themselves modernize and change to suit the desires of today's shopper. Those changes have really paid off for Detwiler's, with the company still searching for ways to grow and expand. I hope Detwiler's has success for many more years to come, as these unique stores are a fun slice of the Floridian supermarket scene. If you're ever near a Detwiler's, I highly recommend stopping in and checking the place out, possibly grabbing a pastry from the bakery and some yellow curvy things while you're there!

     So that's all I have to say about Detwiler's for the moment. I do have a second Detwiler's location photographed for the future, which is unique in its own way, and that will come to the blog eventually. However, more Albertsons in two weeks, so be sure to come back then for more!

Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger