Once upon a time, there was a little roadside produce stand in the Tri-Cities. The little stand grew and grew and grew, until one day it morphed into Country Mercantile. When you see everything (and I mean everything) the store has to offer, it’s hard to imagine owners Jay and Janece Wood’s humble beginning, selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, much of it grown their farm near Basin City some 30 miles north of Richland, Washington.
The 22,000-square-foot store I visited in Richland is on Ava Way off off I-82 and Dallas Road. This new location the Wood’s second brick and mortar. Their first store, situated in Pasco, opened in 1997.
Both stores feature Northwest gourmet foods along with mouth-watering chocolates, bread, ice cream, tamales, salsa and chips all made by hand. During my tour of the store with “Mercantile Max” ( store manager Max Uriostegui, who has been with Country Mercantile for well over a decade), I found out about the many ways the Mercantile really puts family into this mom and pop business.
Max told me how his mom makes all the tamales and all the salsas, with the help of nieces and nephews. He could trace each and every recipe to someone he knew. He also recounted his own story of how he was hired by the Wood family and, over time, helped grow the business into what it is today.
Max studied chocolate and ice cream making, perfecting his skills with chocolate covered nuts, handmade truffles, fudge and a myriad of chocolate confections, along with umpteen flavors of ice cream and gelato (now mostly made by staff he trained). All I can say is: I want to eat at his house!
Another thing I was really impressed with is that Max listens–truly listens–to his staff and customers. When one of the staff suggested piling truffles high and deep (rather than the traditional sparely staged look), he let her give it a try. Sure enough, instead of buying one truffle here and another truffle there, customers loaded their bags to full truffle capacity.
Max also finds creative ways to incorporate the talents and expertise of his staff, like the employee he pointed to while we were chatting whose photography is featured throughout the store. I feel certain the success of Country Mercantile is equal measure rock solid employee relations, great products, and exceptional customer service that keeps customers coming back again and again.
If you find yourself in the Tri-Cities, go fill up your shopping basket at Country Mercantile. And say hi to Max!
Country Mercantile Richland
5015 Ava Way, Richland, WA 99352
Store hours: 7:00am – 9:00pm PST/Open 7 days a week
Country Mercantile Pasco
232 Crestloch Rd., Pasco, WA 99301
Store hours: 7:00am – 8:00pm PST/Open 7 days a week
My visit was hosted by Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, but all opinions expressed are my own.
Take the road less traveled, Beth