Kickstarter goal reached, Vergennes food market to open

VERGENNES — In mid-June, Vergennes couple Mona and Jon Sullivan turned to fundraising website Kickstarter as a way not only to obtain capital to add a downtown brick-and-mortar component to Provisionary Market, their online local-foods business, but also to learn whether demand existed for that expansion. 
They received good news about their plans for a 400-square-foot space at 7 South Maple St., just off Main Street.
The Sullivans offered donors a range of benefits — that included products as well as recipes, online tutorials and catering from Mona, an experienced chef — and set a goal of $10,000 for a 20-day campaign that ended on July 10. And just short of 100 people pledged $13,052 before the target date. 
Mona described how they felt. 
“(It’s) kind of a combination of surprised, overwhelmed and a sense of being encouraged about the idea. From the get-go we had a pretty great response,” she said. “We were really excited and it just made us even more confident to realize how much people really want this.”
From their 7 South Maple St. shop and displays out front the Sullivans plan to sell a full range of locally and Vermont-grown and produced meat, vegetables, fruits and cheeses, plus pantry products such as jams, granola, honey, syrup, coffee, chocolates, nougat, popcorn, flavored nuts and snack food.
They will begin to do so, on at least a limited basis, during an open house on Friday, July 28, from 3 to 7 p.m. They pinned down the time and date during a Monday phone interview with the Independent. 
“I think that would be a great announcement. Open house at Provisionary’s new space on the 28th of July,” Jon said. “People can come in and check out the space and see how we’re doing, and hopefully we’ll have some stuff for sale they can pick up for their weekend that’s grown locally by some great vendors.”
A full opening will follow probably sometime in the first week of August. The Sullivans are expecting their Kickstarter funds to arrive by early next week. They will use that capital to expand their inventory of products, freezers, coolers and other grocery market basics. 
In the meantime, they will be preparing the space for retail — the Sullivans for the past year have already been making and shipping gift baskets there, some of them ready-to-prepare meals based on Mona’s expertise — and planning their moves for when the new funding is in hand. 
“We’ve been pretty busy getting furniture built, the logo, shelving, the counter, cleaning, outdoor stuff, the awning,” Mona said, adding, “We’re just waiting and making sure we have all our ducks in a row and everything’s planned out.”
Once the business is up and running, the Sullivans will add an online component that will make use of Jon’s background in information technology. The Vergennes native, 36, worked for 15 years in that field in California, where he met Mona, 37, before they moved to Vergennes in 2012.
They intend to allow customers to order at least some items online that they can then either pickup at the store or have delivered. They will also continue to produce Mona’s online instructional cooking videos.  
“I can see that taking another month to figure out probably. The question is do we have everything available online, or do we have a subset available online? If we do the pickup, how do we schedule that?” Jon said. “What we’d like to do is ask our existing customers, and by then we should have some.”
They are also planning to sell products Mona will make at another site for which they are now negotiating. She said among other products she will focus on spice blends and flavored and herbed sea salts, products she said are not currently made in Vermont.
Jon said they envision Provisionary Market as a blend of the new economy of online shopping with old-fashioned community-based retail. 
“How can we take the best of what we have, and the best of what we had before that, and combine them both?” Jon said. “We’ve done a lot of work on the online side, let’s do a little more work on this in-person, community side, and then see how we can make those both work together.”
Despite feeling optimism from the support from the Kickstarter campaign and from the many people the Sullivans say stop in and encourage them, they also know a lot of work and trial and error lie ahead. 
“It’s just going to be a big testing ground for us over the next few months,” Mona said. “We’re sort of diving into the peak of the season here, so that’s going to be fun and quite a learning process, I’m sure. As fall and winter come around and things settle down we’ll be able to use that time to get into our planning for the following year and really hone all of our ideas.”
But Jon said that community support does continue to lift their spirits as they figure out how to make what is still not a huge amount of funding lift their new venture. 
“We’re still trying to do this within the confines of a limited amount of space with a limited amount of capital and a limited amount of manpower, and really bootstrap it with the community’s efforts,” he said. “If it continues to move in this direction, I don’t see any problem. The best thing you can hope for when you start a business is to know you already have customers when you open the door.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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