Courtesy Community Impact News
A number of businesses in Old Town Tomball can trace their roots to the Tomball Farmers Market—a weekly market that began with few customers and a handful of vendors until 2015, said Michelle Bundy, president of the Tomball Farmers Market board of directors.
“About 2015, it really started to gain some traction,” Bundy said. “We started having more of a full lot. Over the past two years, it’s just exploded.”
The market began in 2009 with no more than 12 vendors at a time, she said. The market now averages 50-60 vendors each week, with space to expand to 81 vendors as customer traffic increases, Bundy said.
In 2015 alone, downtown businesses, such as Jane & John Dough Bakery, Tejas Chocolate and Pain Train Salsa, grew from market vendors to storefronts.
In February, Caroline’s Kitchen opened a storefront at 411 W. Main St. The eatery serves a variety of tamales—including pork, jalapeno cheeseburger, and chicken cream cheese and jalapeno—and continues to man a vendor booth at the farmers market each Saturday.
Caroline’s Kitchen—as well as Pain Train Salsa—also stocks products in its storefront from Tomball Farmers Market vendors that do not have a brick-and-mortar location.
“It’s becoming more and more of a trend [to move from vendor to storefront] because the market tends to be a safe place to start,” Bundy said.
Building a business
“They see what products sell [and] what people respond to,” Bundy said. “Over time, they learn to perfect their product in a safe environment with very little overhead [cost].”
Pain Train Salsa co-owner Shane Nobles said he first attended the Tomball Farmers Market in June 2014, and as his customer base grew, he was inspired by fellow market vendor Jane & John Dough to make the move from vendor to storefront.
“[At] the farmers market, you know the people by name [and you] see them weekly,” Nobles said. “It’s a very close and personable situation that the market allows for. It’s just such a simple transition [to a storefront].”
After nearly two years on Main Street and expanding into a second storefront, Nobles said the farmers market continues to drive his business.
“While you’re [transitioning to a storefront], you always have your home base of the market,” he said. “Even today with our storefront, the market is still our backbone.”
Nobles said out of the 10-14 markets he attends each week, the Tomball Farmers Market is the most supportive of its vendors.
“You’ve got to have a symbiotic relationship there,” he said.
Attracting quality vendors
Bundy said the Tomball Farmers Market prides itself on high standards, which yields quality vendors that results in a loyal customer base. Vendors must be located within a 150-mile radius of the market, have required food handler permits and provide product samples or consent to a farm visit from the vendor committee.
“That helps with the integrity of the vendors that we have,” Bundy said. “It keeps people coming back.”
While the market includes vendors offering artisan goods—such as jams, salsas and olive oils—and handcrafted items as well as those offering produce, Bundy said farmers make up 51 percent of vendors at the Tomball Farmers Market.
“We maintain that old-fashioned, farmers market rule of thumb where we want the majority to be farmers,” Bundy said. “We don’t want it to turn into a flea market, and we don’t want it to be overcrowded with any one thing.”
Caroline Cobell, owner of Caroline’s Kitchen, said vendor selection at the Tomball Farmers Market challenges vendors to offer their best products and the best experience for customers. The Tomball Farmers Market was given Edible Houston magazine’s 2017 Local Hero Award for the best farmers market in the Greater Houston area.
“The customer base that is there at the market itself is looking for a higher quality product—something that they’re not going to get at the grocery store, something that they’re not going to get anywhere else,” Cobell said. “[The Tomball Farmers Market] actually [has] a cultivating atmosphere to where [the farmers market board of directors] want[s] you to put your best foot forward, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Cobell said when she made the move to Main Street, the farmers market provided her security in customer numbers.
“Whether we sold any tamales during the week at all out of the front door, we knew we still had this customer base that we were going to have on Saturday,” she said.