June 4, 2012
End of an era: Taylor's Market and Ford's Hamburgers part ways

OK, maybe it came off as a bit of a dig when the much-admired and locally owned Taylor's Market posted a brief note on Facebook, informing its fans that it would no longer be the supplier to locally owned Ford's Hamburgers just up the street.

It went like this: "We are sad to announce that after 25 years our business relationship with Ford's Hamburgers has ended. We wish the owners well and hope they are able maintain the same level of quality while using a corporate source for their beef."

The last sentence was obviously provocative. Some saw it as snide. I didn't mind it a bit. I'm a big fan of Taylor's. For me and many others, it's pretty much the perfect grocery store, from the old-fashioned meat counter staffed by skilled butchers (including owner Danny Johnson), great cheese selection, excellent sandwiches and a small selection of wine and beer in which there are no subpar choices. I like the size, too - who wants to wander up and down vast aisles looking for stuff? I'm in and out of Taylor's in 10 minutes.

So I called Danny Johnson (he and wife Kathy own Taylor's) to ask about the Ford's dust-up, sensing there was more to the story (Ford's is closed on Mondays, so we'll follow up soon with that side).

danny.jpgFirst, he has nothing against corporations. I bet his car was made by a corporation.

"They serve their place. But we're a family owned business. A lot of people rely on this business. We live in the community. We're vested here," Johnson said.

Johnson says Ford started carrying beef from Sunflower, the grocery chain that recently opened a new store in Land Park off Sutterville Road near the zoo. Taylor's had been supplying Ford's beef from Lucky Dog Ranch, a premium product. It's a ranch owned by the owners of Lucca and Roxie restaurants here in town.

"It was one of those things where they (Ford's) decided to go with Sunflower," Johnson said, noting that price was an issue. "He (Ford's owner Peter Paul Vereschzagin) used to always promote that he bought meat from Taylor's and it was a pretty good relationship. It's still a good relationship. It didn't completely break our heart, but the way they went about it, we were not pleased."

Though Ford's is a local institution, it has suffered from quality and consistency issues in recent years. When I spent weeks researching a story a few years ago about the area's best burgers, Ford's didn't stack up to the best of the best in side-by-side tests. Our burgers were overcooked and dry. Overcooking premium beef is a major faux pas.

Johnson said Ford's never told Taylor's it was looking for a new supplier. It simply started buying from Sunflower.

"If he had come to me and said, 'Is there something we can do differently? I would have said, 'Sure and here are the options,'" Johnson told me.

In other words, Taylor's was willing to work something out so Ford's could get the right quality for the right price - from the right place.

This is now a new era, and it's just a little bit sad. In this day and age, when the glitzy Whole Foods is sweeping across the landscape and corporate chains are dominating the grocery business, it has always been reassuring that Sacramento has places like Taylor's, Corti Brothers and the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

Given all this, Johnson says Taylor's is going to be more aggressive in its marketing efforts. It has a great story, especially its stellar butchery program. It just needs to spread the word, tell the story more often and, these days, with all the digital distractions and social media opportunities, say it a bit louder.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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