What began as La Jolla Produce, a small, family-owned produce store in 1970, has grown under the leadership of brothers Bob, Richard, and Roger Harrington into one of San Diego’s most well-known food brands.
Specialty Produce (the name changed in 1990) now delivers to over 1,000 restaurants seven days a week and serves the public in a sprawling retail and wholesale food hub located on Hancock Street that functions as part warehouse, part museum, and part culinary wonderland.
Now more than ever before, professional chefs and home cooks aspire to get their hands on produce from around the globe, any time of year. This is true even for those of us fortunate enough to live, cook, and eat in a year-round paradise for locally grown, caught, and crafted food and beverages. For those times when we desire global variety, Specialty Produce now has an app for that: Twenty-five years in the making, it puts the whole world of produce on your smartphone.
As Specialty Produce’s early-days web editor Joan Sonntag put it, “Who would've thought a little produce stand would become a leader in technology in the distribution of fruits and vegetables?!”
Roger’s grasp of tech in the early 1980s led him to develop their early information system, and the team created an extensive website with online ordering as early as 1996.
Today, in their checkout area, you can’t miss their 40x8-foot Jumbotron screen, which they liken to an ESPN highlight reel about the local food scene.
They run a community podcast network hosting 15 podcasts from an on-site studio, including Edible San Diego’s Living Local. Specialty Produce showcases their restaurant customers' ingredients, food, and experiences through DineLocal their website, podcast, and social media channels. They have a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen set up for multimedia and a food waste recovery system for restaurant chefs called Waste Not SD.
While their tech prowess reaches further than most produce distribution companies, Specialty stays grounded by offering a variety of organics, locally grown produce, and locally made food products as well as a broad array of produce, spices, condiments, bulk items, and other ingredients too numerous to mention.
Home cooks can access these goods with a weekly farmers’ market box - a mix of produce and artisan food products - or explore Specialty Produce’s cavernous facility rubbing shoulders with chefs from all over San Diego County.
Bob’s curiosity became the globe-trotting research that makes Specialty’s inventory and database unique anywhere.
Having traveled to so many countries that he groups them by continent, Bob has identified and documented well over 1,000 fruits and vegetables new to him or the San Diego market. This led to the production of what Specialty describes simply as The Book, a foot-high tome containing “the world’s most comprehensive and growing compilation of over 3,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables.”
A living legacy of Bob’s work, the Specialty Produce app is a handheld version of The Book, updated daily with information about thousands of fruits and vegetables with links to an archive of over 15,000 recipes gathered over 25 years. You can browse for something new, keep personal notes about favorite produce, share prized recipes, and, most notably, the app can even show you where to buy specific fresh ingredients.
As a home cook or a pro, we may know that our health and the planet reflect what we cook and eat every day, but sometimes so many choices feel overwhelming. Specialty Produce and their new app put a world of information at our fingertips and around the corner. This helps us make more informed choices about what’s on our plate.