When Gigi Gimenez met Susan Muci as a volunteer (and later employee) at Fairchild Gardens, she could hardly have imagined what the future had in store for them. First, a catering business working on South Florida film sets, then a spot as a vendor at Pinecrest’s Farmers Market, selling everything from gourmet muffins to smoothies and sandwiches. And now, well… they’re pooling their collective backgrounds to literally run the show.
“We had no intention, and no idea that we would ever take over the market,” says Gimenez, one-half of Green Market Co-op, her and Muci’s non-profit organization. “We just looked at each other said, ‘We could do this!’”
Gimenez, who brings a background in construction and engineering project management, and Muci, who brings experience with parks and recreation, took over the market last November after two-and-a-half years as vendors. “We had the experience, so we put it on paper,” says Gimenez of responding to the city’s bid. “We worked 24 hours a day for 10 days to put together a proposal.”
The proposal may have wowed the city, but the duo’s first few months running the market weren’t easy. Facing pushback from vendors and a complete exodus of produce sellers, Gimenez and Muci pounded the pavement, rebuilding the market to include 11 farmers and growers and straying away from the resellers who dominated the market in the past. “We’re super proud of that,” she says. “It is just as strong as it was before, because all of our vendors are small local businesses. We have very few from outside of Florida and no distributors or resellers.”
Their gamble seems to be paying off. Gimenez says they had a packed house in their high season (November through April) and have had more vendors this summer than ever before. “It’s been rough, but it’s been worth it,” she says. “To stick to our guns and to do this the way we said we were going to do it.”
Now, Green Market Co-op is focusing its time and energy on bringing new and exciting vendors to the market, eschewing candles and jewelry to focus on artisanal foods and gifts, and keeping the regulars happy. “We have so many… we call them ‘die-hards’ because they’re there every week,” says Gimenez. “And then there are the people we also love to see when they come for the first time.”
In addition to the food, Gimenez is quick to cite the family- (and dog-) friendly atmosphere and commitment to the Pinecrest community, part of which goes beyond just keeping the market beautiful. “There’s not one vendor who doesn’t have their proper licensing,” she says, noting that she and Muci often take on a mentorship role, helping new vendors negotiate the government paperwork. “Part of helping the community is doing things the right way.”
That commitment extends to supporting their vendors in growing their businesses and creating a blend of farmers, growers, and even local foodies and cooks with aspirations to sell their gourmet concoctions. Says Gimenez, “Many people have a dream. We’ll walk them through the steps to get there.”