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A fresh start

Produce market opens in former lounge on San Carlos Boulevard

December 7, 2016
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The former location of The Cadillac is going back to its original purpose: a produce stand.

Connor Dempsey, 22, said he could tell when he drove by the building, which has been empty for months, that it was meant for produce, not a restaurant.

So what to do for Dempsey, his friend Kyle Strickland, 26, and a burning entrepreneurial spirit?

Article Photos

Co-owner Connor Dempsey checks on the tomatoes for quality.

The friends opened Fresh Connection Monday, Nov. 28. The produce market is located at 16641San Carlos Blvd.

Strickland of Cape Coral and Dempsey of Delaware met a few years ago while both were working at Oakes Farms in Naples. The grocery store sells its own produce grown in Collier County and buys from other local Florida farmers as well.

The corporate lifestyle wasn't suited to the young men, however.

"I got to see all their numbers," Dempsey said. The knowledge pushed him and Strickland to strike out on their own venture. "I wanted to make a move and be my own boss."

Strickland has been in the produce market business for years - his father owned a Fresh Connection store in Delaware and recently transferred ownership to his son. So, the two decided to open a second branch in Florida.

The Florida branch will offer some Delaware products and other small-business items from its sister store, as well as local produce and goods, such as Walker Farms Honey in North Fort Myers. The store will be open 8 8 p.m.during the busy season and 8 6 the off-season.

"We're trying to source locally," Dempsey said. "Prices might be higher but we buy for quality, not price."

Fresh Connection's produce will be sourced as locally as possible. For now, the owners are pairing up with their former farm, Oakes Farm, to sell some products like potatoes and onions. Their tomatoes are bought from a producer in Immokalee.

"If it's available, we'll be selling it," Dempsey said.

The men signed a three-year lease for the space, and they've already got plans for expanding their services to include local bakers, eggs and other products. They are also working on getting a license to be able to sell local beer and wine. The former restaurant has a kitchen, so once the market is established they may begin to sell lunch. By this summer, they also plan to sell organic clothing.

For now, Dempsey and Strickland are just excited to have their own business and make their own rules. Dempsey said his favorite thing to do is chat with customers and build a rapport with them.

"Everyone has their own outlet," Dempsey said. "People come in here for fresh produce, there's a lot of pride in that."



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