EatLoco Farmers Markets

Where the Magic is in the Mix

Article by Dan Hine, Founder & CEO EatLoco, Inc. and the EatLoco Farmers Markets

Photography by EatLoco and Melinda Gipson

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

EatLoco's markets, by their sheer diversity of goods and produce, offer something for everyone in the family, making a weekly trip fun for everyone. And, as I hear shoppers tell me, with many different endings, 'I couldn't make it through the week without stocking up on [fill in the blank.]'

Several years ago, I saw a need in Loudoun County for farmers and other small businesses to do better financially than they do at traditional Farmers Markets. Because I owned my own Loudoun-based marketing company, I decided that I would first reach out to some of the local farmers markets to see how I could help publicize them. I soon learned that many of the small businesses who sold goods and produce at these markets were counting on the proceeds of these sales as their entire income to feed their families. For them, this wasn't a side-hustle or “extra spending money;” it was the family pay-check. 

Put bluntly, whether they sold empanadas or earrings, the proceeds from these merchants' sales represented survival income. But, what was also clear was that old-school, produce-centric farmers markets would never draw enough buyers to amass the earning power necessary for everyone to make a living. As an entire class of merchant, they needed a much better model to be financially viable.

After better understanding the needs of farmers and small businesses, I launched EatLoco, Inc., in 2017 to help expand the revenue stream for local farmers, food producers, artisans and crafters. What began with five or six vendors (all farmers) in 2017, has grown to 125 farmers and local small businesses at EatLoco’s market every Saturday at One Loudoun, and another 45+ on Sunday at Brambleton. We have more than 300 prospective vendors on our waiting list!

It would appear that the magic is in the mix; EatLoco's markets, by their sheer diversity of goods and produce, offer something for everyone in the family, making a weekly trip fun for everyone. And, as I hear shoppers tell me, with many different endings, "I couldn't make it through the week without stocking up on [fill in the blank.]"

One of EatLoco’s biggest customer-draws are the food, spices and crafts by international vendors. They are African, African American, Asian, Austrian, British, Chinese, Ecuadorian, Filipino, Indian, Italian, Jamaican, Japanese, Mediterranean, Mexican, Moroccan, Peruvian, Australian and Thai. Whether they're making the foods and crafts they grew up with or innovating something from an American-exotic blend of cultures, these vendors are crucial to the success of the EatLoco markets. They bring people from all over the county, state, and region into Loudoun County. There is no other place customers can shop for fresh-made international products in such variety turning Loudoun County into a true "destination."

EatLoco’s One Loudoun market currently brings in 4,000+ weekly customers from more than 14 Virginia counties and four surrounding states plus Washington, DC. The more vendors EatLoco signed, the more diversity it brought, the more customers came, and the better sales the vendors recorded. In the past two years, even coping with a pandemic, EatLoco’s vendor sales numbers have exploded. During EatLoco’s inaugural year, vendor sales were less than $5,000. Fast forward to 2021 and EatLoco vendors did more than $4.4 million in sales. This year, 2022, they expect to exceed those numbers by 12-15%. 

EatLoco’s on-going goal with vendors is to help them reach the next logical growth step for their business, usually at no charge. Whether they want to open a brick-and-mortar store, or sell wholesale to a chain store, or just multiply their customer reach online, we are here to help them. We’ve made numerous introductions to local chefs, paired fast-growing food merchants with commercial real estate agents, and even connected them to local business coaches. Other times they may need help with their website, google ad words, social media or with online or display design work. In most of these cases, we can do this all in-house and usually for free.  

The way we gauge how well our markets are doing is by having vendors record their sales with us every single week. We never take a percentage of their sales like most markets. We're more interested in knowing how well they're doing and how we can help them do better. We also share these numbers with our sponsors and advertisers to help show the overall health of the market and to promote its aggressive growth. 

“Normally at other Farmers Markets, you turn up, do your thing and then leave, whereas EatLoco markets are a very organic type of environment where there's a lot of support from the organization,” says Matt Cahir, CEO of Greenheart Juice. We certainly didn't give Greenheart their start, but we have helped launch them into the largest profitable farmers market out of the 20 that they are involved in every single weekend. There's usually a line of fans waiting for their breakfast juice at One Loudoun!

Jonathan and Rinaldo from SR coffee have been with us almost from the beginning. Beyond their coffee truck, they have opened two brick and mortar stores; one has been open for the past year and the other is going to be opening in the fall of 2022. We're proud that we helped give them their start.

We couldn't have done it alone. There are so many people for us to thank for both giving us our space and helping pull the whole thing together, rain or shine. I have to start with the county that licensed us to make both One Loudoun and later Brambleton home. Our incredible vendors show up whether it's cold and rainy or the pavement is so hot we caution shoppers to walk their dogs on the grass, they are there for shoppers just in case they decide to come out. This is a collaborative effort by a lot of different people, but the largest credit for EatLoco’s success is our vendors, the incredible food they produce and the hardworking dedication they bring to the market every single weekend of the year.

EatLoco’s motivation is seeing its vendors succeed, make a good living, be able to put money in their pockets, and hopefully even take vacations with their families. This is not just for the farmers. This is for the small businesses of Loudoun County and the customers who love them.

  • EatLoco Farmers Market at One Loudoun - Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. year-round and Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. seasonally. 
  • EatLoco Farmers Market at Brambleton - 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. year-round

You can see more on the site, EatLoco.org, and reach Dan at info@eatloco.org. 

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