Serving the Fruit of Life

Article by Marie Robey Wood

Photography by Ana Gutierrez Covarrubias

Originally published in Potomac Lifestyle

Michael Pope has a saying to incentivize his employees: “I look at us as if we are the electrical conduit  between one person’s heart and another. It's up to us to keep that electricity going, and if we mess up and short circuit we cause a lot of pain.”  He then adds “The customer is mad, the recipient is mad, and everybody's mad because we didn't do our part, because their gift is so important to their life!”

Pope, with his wife Loida, owns Edible Arrangements stores in Rockville and Silver Spring.  Edible Arrangements is a US-based franchising business specializing in fresh fruit arrangements that combine the concept of a fruit basket with designs inspired by flower arrangements. There are approximately 1,000 of these stores nationwide. The arrangements that include gift baskets and fruit bouquets are made with fresh strawberries, cantaloupe, apples, bananas, pineapples and more.

The products are offered in a variety of sizes and are often bought as business-to-business gifts, a birthday present, a get well wish, or the very popular arrangements for Valentine’s and Mother’s Day gifts. Their best-selling items average around $68, but Edible Arrangements doesn’t limit their creations to small or medium-sized baskets.

The Popes emphasize that they offer other options that will make an excellent choice for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Quinceanera celebrations, corporate parties and even weddings. For large events they offer high-end fruit trees like the “Incredible Edible Chocolate” for $1,999.99 or the “Incredible Edible Spectacular” for $1,499.99.

Although the bulk of their business comes from items delivered, they haven’t forgotten to accommodate their walk-in customers. In the last several years the stores began offering smaller items as well, some costing only $5. Smoothies, cheesecake, gourmet popcorn, and homemade cookies are popular, along with fruit and cookie platters. According to Pope, “we are always adapting, and always trying new things to appeal to our customers.”

Pope bought his first store in Rockville in 2013, which his son Clint now manages, and built his second store “from the ground up” in Silver Spring in 2018. The Silver Spring store sits right across the street from the Metro’s proposed Purple Line Silver Spring Library stop, which will cause a temporary shut-down of the store for walk-in business while under construction.

The process of delivering a finished product starts early in the day when Coastal Delivery Services drops off the fruit and chocolate, which is kosher and from Hershey, that Pope’s stores have ordered. Everything is delivered in a refrigerated truck set at 38 degrees. Once the fruit and other items are dropped off, they are immediately placed inside a cooler in the store, where the temperature is also set at 38 degrees. Then the work begins: washing the fruit in a sanitary solution, then using specialized fruit-cutting machinery to make the different shapes and sizes of the fruits. Once these are arranged in the proper vase, platter, packs and even boxes, they are wrapped and tagged. Drivers for the store will then rush the finished products to waiting customers or businesses in vans which also happen to be refrigerated at 38 degrees.

Unlike many small businesses, Pope’s sales have increased from 25 to 30 percent during the pandemic. He reflects that “We are considered an essential business as we not only provide healthy food but also good will.” Always improvising, his stores started offering cut fresh fruit in bags for customers during this time. Sometimes his small staff feels overwhelmed with calls coming in continuously. Luckily two of their grown children and their friends have been able to pitch in when needed. Mondays and Fridays are their busiest days, with sometimes 65 deliveries made with orders from the two stores. 

Because Michael Pope works full-time in the public affairs office for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, he can be found at his shop or making deliveries in the evenings and on weekends. Loida Pope runs the store during the week. She wears many hats, including cutting and arranging the orders, supervising workers, answering the busy phones and handling all the bookkeeping. Often her hours are long, and she says that twelve-hour days are not uncommon.

One little known fact – dipping fruit into the hot chocolate sauce is really a skill. Having the dexterity and coordination to insert the fruit and then removing it at just the right time is something a designated employee does, and not just everyone is capable. Luckily Loida is an expert herself but is looking for an equally coordinated employee.

The best part of the job, according to the Popes, is the many customers they get to know personally. “We've made a lot of friends,” Michael says. He also wants consumers to know that if they want to send a gift anywhere in the country they can call his store and his employees will then make sure the gift is delivered. “We want to be our customers go-to gifting center for all occasions,” he notes. “This helps us keep our loyal customers, and we take this very seriously.”

Deliveries are free on selected items if ordered in advance. To order directly from Michael and Loida Pope's Edible Arrangements call 301-244-9955.

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