Durham startup The Mint Market helps residents find local food online

aweigl@newsobserver.comAugust 19, 2012 

  • More information For more information or to sign up, go to mintmarket.com.

A Durham startup is trying to make it easier for chefs to buy local food.

The Mint Market launched July 29 as an online marketplace for chefs to buy vegetables from local farmers, seafood from Brunswick County fishermen, even locally made cakes and ice cream.

“We’re an online farmers market but for wholesale,” says Ricky Spero, one of two men who founded Mint Market.

The reaction so far, Spero says, has been: “Why hasn’t someone done this before?”

For the Triangle’s vibrant local food scene and more than 30 farmers markets from Pittsboro to Smithfield, technological solutions to the local food system’s problems have been few and far between. Nationally, online farmers markets from Maine to South Dakota have been up and running for several years, allowing restaurant chefs and consumers to preorder items for pick up at the farmers markets.

The Mint Market is similar but not exactly the same. It is only open to chefs whose orders are delivered to their restaurants. This is how it works: Farmers post what they will have for sale on the web site by Saturday. Chefs place their orders Sunday. Farmers make deliveries Tuesdays.

Mint Market is the brainchild of Spero, 30, of Chapel Hill and David Ivy, 22, of Raleigh. Spero earned a doctorate in physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ivy is a recent computer science graduate at N.C. State University.

Both have previous startup experience. With a UNC professor, Spero started Rheomics, a firm using discoveries developed in his co-founder’s lab to develop diagnostic tools for cancer. Ivy worked on Discover Lit, an online publishing platform.

Since the launch, the pair have been recruiting more chefs and adding features to the web site. They hope to raise funds by the end of the year to expand the service to more markets. They make money by charging a 5 percent fee on all sales on the web site.

One of the online market’s goals, Spero said, is to attract chefs who aren’t already shopping at local farmers markets, like George Ash, owner of Buns, a burger restaurant in Chapel Hill.

“I don’t make it out to the farmers market very often,” Ash said. “This is incredibly convenient. It’s easier than jumping on Amazon.”

Ash recently ordered beets from Ever Laughter Farm via Mint Market. The beets were roasted for a topping on a burger special.

Ever Laughter farmer Will Cramer, who with farmer Sam Hummel has three acres under cultivation north of Hillsborough, sees Mint Market as a way to help increase business. “We’re a small farm trying to get a little bit bigger,” says Cramer, who already sells at two farmers markets.

Plus, it saves time on both sides of the transaction. Farmers no longer have to solicit business from chefs. Neither side has to call each other each week to see what the farmer may have for sale and what the chef might like to order. Chefs pay online, which eliminates the need for farmers to send invoices or track down payments.

Chef Scott Howell, who used Mint Market during its three-month testing phase, sees this as the future. “I don’t understand why everyone isn’t on this format,” said Howell, who owns Nana’s and Nanataco, both in Durham. “Eventually, this is how we’re going to order.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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