STORY BY DANA HUCH AND GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTOS BY DANA HUCH AND EMILY MCNALLY
June 26 might just seem like a regular summer Sunday, but here in Los Altos, it’s officially known as DeMartini Day, commemorating the oldest business that still operates in the town today: DeMartini Orchard, a farmstand on the side of San Antonio, founded in 1932.
Over the almost nine decades that the store has operated, it’s passed through three families; first the DeMartinis, then the Zeitmanns before the current owners, the Kozys. Its deep roots have made DeMartini a pillar of Los Altos’ history and community.
The Kozy brothers — Craig and Tony — gained ownership of the stand in 1985 and have kept the family-run tradition alive. Craig’s son, James, began working the stand at 12 years old, and he’s grown up witnessing the complications of running a family business.
“Community is a big part of our store,” James said. “A lot of our customers come here not with a dinner plan, but wanting to see what looks good that day. We’ve been here for so long that we are entrenched in the community.”
The stand has stood the test of time partially due to the DeMartini family’s continued ownership of the land on which the store sits, relieving a significant amount of financial pressure from the business.
Because of this support, the stand has been able to stick to its charming, anachronistic purpose of serving fresh produce to the community, despite time’s changes. Heritage and attention to detail makes DeMartini Orchard stand out among the grocery delivery services of the tech age.
But given that same tech age, the stand has needed to branch out in the types of produce it sources to accommodate for a wider demographic. Since the tech industry has boomed, DeMartini’s has seen its patronage diversify and has tried to reflect this change in their inventory.
“Historically the demographics of Los Altos were a little bit older and white; in the past decade or so, there’s been a shift to a younger demographic,” James said. “There has been an explosion in diversity, so I’ve focused a little bit more on getting more ethnic foods and different vegetables.”
Every day, DeMartini receives a new shipment of produce from farms as far as Watsonville and Calistoga, as well as other farms along the coast and in the valley.
“If they’re willing to drive the product to me, I’ll take it,” James said. “If it’s in season and if it’s local, it’ll always taste better than if it has to sit in a warehouse or truck. It’s also great to keep money in local communities.”
But DeMartini, like many small businesses, still has not been immune to the effects of COVID-19. While it does now offer curbside pickup, extra costs and manpower associated with selecting items have added to employees’ workloads, making it a less than ideal system.
And the pandemic has also brought in a new crowd of shoppers — tech workers.
“Before the pandemic, a lot of these tech workers would get fed all their meals at the campus,” James said. “Now, since they closed the campuses, a lot of tech workers are coming out and looking at produce for the first time. I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘What is this vegetable? How do I cook it?’ I’ve had people come in who didn’t know that there were more than 10 varieties of apples. It’s really cool to see someone who tries something for the first time; it’s really fun.”
But going to the locally sourced produce stand is often not the most convenient or cheapest option, especially in comparison to supermarkets and grocery delivery services. Even before the pandemic, DeMartini found itself being forced to fight the larger companies for customers, but has prided itself on having fresher produce than the big box chains.
“Your Safeways, your Walmarts, your Costcos, they take everything that the farm produces regardless of quality,” James said. “I have people that go to the markets every day and they pick out the best looking boxes off the pallets. It’s not the easy way to do it, but it is the best way to do it.”