Aker Family’s Downtown Produce in Melbourne is Your Farmers Market With a Gourmet Touch
By Space Coast Daily // March 16, 2020
family-run market offers customers a high level of service, quality and selection
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Downtown Produce is your farmers market with a gourmet touch, featuring one of the Space Coast’s largest selections of the finest produce from all over the world. Downtown Produce also offers the “Comfort Foods” line of Ready to Eat Gourmet meals. Made fresh daily by chefs on-site, these meals come with everything you need, so you can grab and go without sacrificing taste. And don’t forget about the more than over 800 bottles of wine represented by hundreds of different vineyards – and a large selection of micro-brewery beers.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – An enduring family-run market such as Downtown Produce offers customers a high level of service, quality, selection and stability, qualities that are rapidly becoming rare in an age when large gourmet grocery stores seemingly pop out of nowhere with lot of hubbub, only to disappear a few years down the road.
“We’ve always operated as a family,” said Jill Aker, who launched the store originally known as Downtown Discount Produce in 1982 with her husband, Gaylord.
Closing in on 40 years in business, the Aker family remains securely at the helm of Downtown Produce. Youngest son Russell is part of the team, which also includes manager Ramon Ceballos and assistant manager Amanda Humes.
Downtown Produce’s sleek and impressive gourmet presence on Ellis Road in Melbourne is nothing like the tiny humble market Jill and Gaylord nurtured from the ground up while still in their 20s.
After the little neighborhood deli Gaylord operated in Kentucky was commandeered during the construction of Interstate 275, the young couple moved south, traversing the Florida peninsula for months looking for a likely spot to set up shop. They found it in Brevard County.
“We came here originally because we wanted to see the first Space Shuttle liftoff,” said Jill.
As vegetarians, the couple had joined Community Harvest, a local co-op that required members to volunteer in the operation. The Akers’ duties included picking up produce from a small wholesaler on Lincoln Avenue, just off the railroad tracks in Melbourne.
When the couple learned the owner was willing to sell, they knew they were home, literally, since they lived in the modest house while running a fruit stand out of the carport. The garage was outfitted into a mini-warehouse.
The Aker’s philosophy of “expand or expire” served them well as they grew their business out of their house until the City of Melbourne politely suggested that they seek larger quarters better suited for their rapidly growing enterprise.
Downtown Produce is located at 7856 Ellis Road in Melbourne.
The market is open from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Lunch is served for eat-in or takeout from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
In 1993, Downtown Produce relocated to Creel Street in Eau Gallie, but that location soon proved too small and the Akers were again on the move, this time to seven and one-half acres on Ellis Road in Melbourne.
“It was out in the boondocks at the time,” said Jill.
No one can accuse that part of town to be out in the sticks anymore, and the May opening of the new Ellis Rd. exit at Interstate 95, plus the planned four-lane expansion of Ellis Rd., is expected to drive even more and more motorists to the area.
Downtown Produce management are prepared to welcome in more customers.
“The entire store is evolving and expanding,” said Amanda Humes, who worked her way from cashier to assistant manager.
In 2015, an extreme makeover doubled the size of the “farmer’s market with a gourmet touch” to an impressive 16,000 square feet. Here, customers can find large selections of the finest produce, meats, seafood and gourmet groceries.
For folks short on time but tired of the same old takeout options, Downtown Produce tempts with a line of ready-to-eat gourmet meals and comfort food, all made fresh—and tastily—on site daily.
“They come with everything you need, so you can grab and go,” said Humes.
Microwaveable prepared meals such as Shrimp Scampi, Blackened Mahi Over Cilantro Lime Rice and Tuna Poke Bowl are sizzlingly popular at the market. Sauces and butters are made in-house, creating a gourmet experience at affordable prices.
To make dinner into an event, the market offers selections from hundreds of different vineyards from the United States and abroad, plus a large selection of craft beers.
Lunch is a popular time of day at Downtown Produce, thanks to executive chefs Dawn Gallia and Dan Desmond and their culinary team. Desmond, who spent two decades cooking at the Saddlebrook Resort & Spa in Tampa, has introduced plenty of mouth-watering entrees, such as Baked Salmon Hollandaise and Chicken Dijonaise.
“He is a phenomenal asset for us, and we have many young chefs learning from him,” said Aker.
Customers can opt to take away their purchases or enjoy them at Downtown Produce’s covered outdoor bistro.
In addition to the finest cuts of deli meats, savory salads and gourmet fixings, the deli counter is known for piled-high cold cut sandwiches, salad sandwiches and hot-pressed sandwiches, and for its burgers and Philly cheesesteaks.
Catering is available for pickup, be it a simple veggie tray or elaborate four-course meal.
For dessert, visit the bakery for cookies, cakes, brownies, breads, muffins, pies and fruit tarts.
A serious variety of artisan breads and homemade sweetbreads, plus whole cakes and pies, are also available.
The market’s meat selections, including beef, pork and poultry, are born, raised and harvested in the United States. Chicken is hormone and antibiotic-free.
A wide variety of meat and seafood products are stuffed, marinated, or seasoned and ready for cooking at home.
Examples include stuffed pork loin, seasoned and marinated chicken, marinated skirt steak, and sesame seed dipped sushi-grade tuna steaks.
A large selection of seasonings and marinades that can be perfectly paired with meats and seafood is conveniently located next to the meat department.
Ethnic and gourmet items abound, including artisanal salts, grains, dried fruits and nuts, oils, bread toppings, salsas, marinara sauces, chutney, preserves, spice rubs, as well as barbeque and hot sauces.
“We also showcase many of our locally produced food products,” said Aker.
A gluten-free section offers snacks, bread, breadcrumbs, salad toppings, pasta, flour, baking mixes, tortillas, and more.
Downtown Produce’s cheese and olive bar stocks a huge variety of olives, pickled products, tapenades, bruschetta, spinach pies, tabouleh, homemade hummus and tzatziki sauce.
“We have cheese from all over the world, and we also have domestic cheeses,” said Humes.
“We carry over 50 Wisconsin cheese varieties. If you are a Wisconsin cheese lover, we are the place to shop!”
The store also stocks a comprehensive selection of house-made cheese spreads and dips, including olive and pecan cheese spread, smoked fish, spinach Parmesan cheese spread and garlic and herb cheese spread.
A variety of crackers, preserves, salamis and honeys pair nicely with the cheese.
If questions arise, be they about meats, wines, cheese or anything else the store carries, customers can always rely on recommendations from the Downtown team.
It is a place that also knows how to party. Downtown Produce’s free weekly tastings and seasonal sampling events throughout the year pack the house with customers eager to taste the Market’s latest culinary treats, as well as unique beer and wine selections.
Until recently, there were two sides to Downtown Produce, the retail market and a large wholesale distribution network that spanned Central Florida.
In 2018, the wholesale arm evolved into Premier Produce Central Florida after the Akers sold the wholesale business to the company that leads South Florida’s foodservice industry in the distribution of fresh and organic produce.
“It has given us more time to concentrate on the market end,” said Aker.
Downtown Produce is located at 7856 Ellis Rd., Melbourne. The market is open from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Lunch is served for eat-in or takeout from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
For more information, call 321-308-0275 or visit DowntownProduce.com, where weekly specials, as well as special events, are posted.
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