“Welcome to Mike’s Organic,” says Mike Geller, coming to greet me at the entrance to his retail market, unassumingly located in a warehouse on an industrial estate in Stamford, three blocks from Long Island Sound.
Beaming away in his checked shirt and Barbour jacket, the red-bearded, baseball-capped Geller wasted no time introducing me to his organic world on my recent first visit. There, in the central section, with its condiments, oils, vinegars and spices, he waxed lyrical about his products, including “fantastic” aged balsamic from Modena, Italy; Bariani olive oil from the Sacramento Valley (“the best olive oil in America”); “amazing” pasta from California and “incredible” jam from the Hudson Valley. “And we were the first people in America to stock these,” he enthused, pointing to brightly colored jars of renowned Momofuku chef David Chang’s line of seasonings and sauces.
Disillusioned with the 10 years he had spent in advertising, Geller gave it up in 2008 and went to spend three months in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Besides adventures that close encounters with a leopard and a cobra, his main takeaway from Africa was how “real” food looked and tasted, in contrast to what was typically available in American supermarkets. Another was realizing that food in this country did not taste the way it used to. “Flavor, nutrition, the environment and the farmer are what it’s all about,” he told me. “But, in America, none of those things is prioritized.”
Back home in Greenwich, he established his business slowly. Originally working with just four farmers, he now takes produce from more than 200 farms nationwide to sell to his customers. And many of those farmers have become good personal friends — with 25 of them present at his wedding seven years ago at Greenwich Polo Club.
Shopping at Mike’s Organic is done either by ordering online for delivery or visiting the Stamford store, which is open six days a week. Online customers can sign up for a weekly CSA — “community supported agriculture” — basket of fruit and vegetables that changes every week, depending on what the farmers have to offer, and that runs for the duration of the season, or they order “à la carte.”
Mike’s has also recently joined forces with Goldbelly, which ships specialty foods anywhere. “Goldbelly is really cool,” Geller says. “If you want your favorite dumplings from your favorite Chinese restaurant in California or your favorite barbecue from Texas, or your favorite gumbo from New Orleans — if they’re on Goldbelly, you order and you will have them the following morning. So we’re on it now and we can ship our products nationally.”
In the last few months, Mike’s Organic has shipped to every state in America — produce baskets, grilling kits with steaks and Thanksgiving turkeys — including one to Martha Stewart. (A great supporter of the business, Stewart has also become a personal friend.) “Goldbelly has given us this reach we didn’t previously have,” Geller says.
He is also building a flagship retail store in Cos Cob, which is slated to open by the end of summer. Standing on a 1-acre lot, the new organic produce superstore will have a garden at the front with picnic tables and an orchard with 50 trees. Regular events are also planned. “We’ll have lobstermen coming down from Maine with 3,000 live lobsters, for example, or a machine making hot, fresh doughnuts to serve with apple sauce on the weekend, that kind of thing,” Geller says. He wants food to be presented as an experience and not just something that sits on the grocery store shelf or in the freezer cabinet.
The Stamford site, meanwhile, will be retained for warehousing, delivery fulfillment and private events. A third site, recently purchased in Stamford, will house a new commercial kitchen for prepared foods that Geller is adding to the company’s repertoire.
Back at the Stamford retail market, meanwhile, the tour continues. Geller gives me blueberries, little blue pellets expelling deep, sweet flavor on the tongue. “Aren’t they outrageous?” he wants to know. (They are.) And tangerines, an almost intoxicating blend of citrus and sugar. (They’re “outrageous,” too.) “You will never see these in the grocery store,” Geller says. He hands me a box of locally grown tomatoes that, even in winter, really taste of, well, tomato.
“A big thing for us is curation,” says Geller, as he walks me past the fridges of CBD beverages, cold-brew coffee, raw juices and dairy and dairy-alternatives. He raves about a cashew butter that “tastes just like butter;” locally cured charcuterie and Heirloom Fresh blue and brown eggs, their yokes the deepest yellow. And he rhapsodizes over his guacamole and a vegan dip made with aquafaba, or chick pea water.
There’s also pastured pork, beef, chicken and fish, along with sausages, hotdogs and steaks, all sourced directly from small producers, around 30 of whom are inscribed on an honor roll above one of the industrial-sized freezer cabinets.
When I ask about Covid and its effects, Geller says that in a sense it has been kind to the business. “People turned to us to get their food because, in some cases they couldn’t get it (elsewhere). And with no restaurants to supply, we had 20 or 30 farmers tell us that they would have lost their farms in 2020 without us.”
“Farmers are like artists,” he continues. “Some are Picasso, others not. You want to support all farms, but you really look for the people who are doing what they do as well as they possibly can.”
And it’s what drives Mike’s Organic, too. “I’ve been in this business for 12 years,” Geller says. “I’ve lived it, I really have. But all I ever really want to do — I just want to find the best.”
For more, visit mikesorganic.com.