STORY BY SID KANWAR, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY
This story was published by a student in our middle school intro to journalism program.
While walking by Ava’s Downtown Market, a passerby likely wouldn’t give it a second look. But step past the red awning, and customers are met with a unique array of mainly local products not found in any big chain grocery stores.
Owner and operator Juan Origel founded Ava’s almost 10 years ago, with the intent of being a “startup that helps other startups.”
“In order for you to get into a big chain store, like a Safeway or Costco or Lucky, you have to show proof of sales,” Origel said. “So the only way you’re going to start is to put the product in a store like mine.”
After people put their products in Ava’s, they are able to generate proof of sales to show to bigger chain stores.
“We try to always showcase something new and innovative,” Origel said. “Eclectic products, a lot of local products, higher-end, better-for-you-type products.”
Origel used the now common Straus and Clover milk brands as examples of Ava’s success stories.
“At one point, those were pretty eclectic-type brands that you can only find in small stores or Whole Foods,” Origel said. “But now Safeway, they have a pretty smart team that goes around and they see what other stores are doing, and they mimic them.”
Today, both brands are common items at Safeway.
Origel said it’s much easier to get a product into a store like Ava’s, whereas trying to become a vendor at a big chain store is a long and difficult process. At Ava’s, you simply have to contact him and he can showcase the product in his store.
“It’s more of a one-on-one, old-fashioned style of doing business,” Origel said.
Not only is it a more streamlined process, but Ava’s offers a delivery service called Starship, which manufactures self-driving delivery robots that can be remotely monitored on a smartphone.
“When the pandemic hit it was perfect,” Origel said. “A perfect form of delivery for the neighborhood.”
Based out of Mountain View, Starship also delivers food to employees and students upon request.
As a grocery store owner in the pandemic, Origel was able to find a silver lining as more people were learning to cook and bake at home. He said it was like a “Renaissance.”
“They had to relearn how to cook,” Origel said. “People started cooking a little bit more at home and eating at home. You have to eat no matter what, especially if you are so used to being catered to, like a lot of high tech employees are.”
An avid chef himself, Origel said he has enjoyed giving out cooking tips and building recipes with this newfound client base.
With this uptick in business, Origel has watched Ava’s thrive through the tough times of the pandemic and hopes to continue to do so for many more years to come.