Richmond native Tori Stowers understands the power of a great story.
After years of working with both local and national brands at a digital ad agency, her current full-time gig, Stowers is familiar with how brand messaging resonates with consumers. She recently launched bimonthly online local food market Common Eats to help Richmond chefs, bakers and makers get their goods into as many hands as possible.
Stowers knows that we as buyers shop not just for the best kombucha on the shelf – we want the best kombucha with the most compelling story behind it. For instance, see Common Eats vendor SoulSmith Kombucha.
We sat down with Stowers to learn more about this online market.
Style Weekly: You already have a full-time job and two children younger than 4 – what motivated you to start Common Eats?
Tori Stowers: Before I had kids one of my favorite things to do was to go around town and try new restaurants and food trucks. Then with kids and all the things kids bring – even strapping in a car seat – it was hard to get out.
When the pandemic hit, it compounded that. I started shopping at a lot of big brands and going through drive-thrus, whatever was convenient to my lifestyle. I realized I was barely buying any local products and decided I needed to figure out how to make local food more accessible.
How has Common Eats evolved from your original idea to the market that it is today?
I originally had a pop-up drive-thru idea, which was interesting, but not scalable. One thing I have found about this business that I love is that people – through talking or even through Instagram messages – have helped me build this, giving me suggestions of what to try, like moving things online. Today we have the online market run bimonthly. Sales open the Sunday before the market date, and customers can place their orders between Sunday and Wednesday. On Saturday morning they can pick up their order from our operations headquarters [104 Shockoe Slip] or they can opt for free local delivery within a 20-mile radius. We’ve partnered with Chop Chop RVA drivers, which has been great.
How does one become a Common Eats vendor?
We only have three requirements, because we want to make this as inclusive as possible: The business must be approved for wholesale, it must be local to Richmond and it has to be good. We haven’t had any trouble with that last part.
Have you considered creating a storefront version?
Right now it’s too early to say. I just hope that I can provide a place of discovery and ease of buying for consumers. For the makers I’m hoping it will create a space where they can promote items, reach a bigger audience and create connections with other chefs and bakers.
Locally made goods are typically more expensive than the generic brands you find at big box stores. How do you overcome this hurdle?
Our mission statement is making local food more convenient and accessible to all. Shopping local is a privilege, whether that’s from a location standpoint or a socio-economic standpoint. People can email me at any point to discuss a pricing structure. We have a pay-what-you-can program so anyone who sees something they really like but might not be able to afford, or if they’re outside of the delivery or if Saturday delivery doesn't work for them, we want to figure out how to make it happen.
Sales for the next Common Eats market open Sunday, March 21.