OAKHURST – When one door closes, goes the saying, another opens. Now, area business owners Kandie and John Stier, together with son Blake Elsman and the whole family, are excited to see what life has in store for them as they plan to close the double glass doors of the Produce Place for one last time. Kandie announced the final day of business for the locals-favorite soup and sandwich stop will be Friday, Apr 11.
After that, the 3,000 ft. space in the building Kandie has rented for over 14 years will be leased by a soon-to-be-confirmed new tenant.
Son Blake will continue working in his chosen field as a motorcycle mechanic, and Kandie will have plenty of time to care for her husband, kids, and herself. She and engineer John may finally even have a little time to breathe, for a change.
“Blake has finished out what was a four year commitment,” says Kandie, referring to the home-school project that began when her boy was in middle school. The family set out simply to sell fruit at the corner of 426 and School Road, outside the recycled kids clothing boutique Kandie ran from there. From that modest beginning a restaurant grew, sure as potatoes make a great soup.
April 30 is Blake’s 18th birthday, and with mixed emotions, mom Kandie says of closing Produce Place, “It’s time. It’s his time now.”
It’s not only Blake’s time, it’s Kandie and John’s time, too. Kandie isn’t kidding when she says she could not have sustained this enterprise without John’s constant support.
Her husband can fix anything, Kandie says with appreciation, and he has been more than the go-to ‘fix it guy’ when something broke.
“He has been my protector, and came in after his long day at work to make sure his family was safe and stayed until closing time. John supported me all the way in this adventure. He never said ‘I told you so.’ Maybe sometimes, he should have!” Kandie says.
As of now, the Produce Place opens every week day at 11 a.m., but they arrive to get ready at 8 a.m. One day of the weekend is devoted to cooking or planning for the restaurant, even when it’s closed. Kandie stays after closing at 5:30 p.m. and beyond, and John is almost always there to help.
Blake, however, leaves “early,” at 2:30. That’s because at 3 p.m., he starts his job at C&C Cycles on Highway 41 in Oakhurst, and that goes on until 9 p.m.
The Produce Place has been a family affair from day one. Kandie and John have six kids. Brittany and Brandon are grown and live outside the family home. They have two teens in high school, Leila and Derrick, plus daughter Parker, 8, who goes to Oakhurst Elementary. They all pitched in tremendously to keep the dream alive and Kandie is a proud mom and wife.
“Brandon worked last year at lunchtime busing tables,” says Kandi. “Derrick worked after school doing dishes and cleanup. Leila worked the cash register in the summer and got great job experience: she is currently working at Me and Ed’s pizza. Parker ran the cash register, too!”
When Kandie opened up Produce Place, she had no restaurant experience whatsoever. She considered herself a good home cook, and “always cooked too much food, even for our family of eight. There were always leftovers,” Kandie remembers.
Kandie thought about the idea of opening a full service restaurant complete with sandwiches, salad bar, potato bar, produce and more, and figured, “how hard could it be?”
Kandie, John and Blake find that idea pretty funny, today, looking back with 20/20 hindsight.
The hardest thing about these past four years, says Kandie, was not having enough time at home to do the things that need to be done to keep a home running smoothly, or to spend time having fun with her family. All her time and energy was dedicated to the restaurant. Thankfully, she had John and the kids with her every step of the way.
“It’s a great place and we love it,” continues the accidental chef. “And now, it’s time.” By that, she means time to close the doors, and move on.
Meanwhile, they’re selling just about everything in the restaurant, including equipment, tables, booths, chairs and pretty much anything not glued in or nailed down. They want everyone to come by and visit, and Kandie’s even getting ready to have a raffle for her beloved secret soup recipes.
The best thing for Kandie’s engineer husband John has been that he gets a great deal on great food every weekday at lunchtime. He admits, it’s been tough at times, especially having to see his missus work so hard.
“I have watched my wife perform basically a community service for the last four years,” says John.
He’s laughing, but it’s true. Most of their customers know the Produce Place is a hub for the community in many ways. The owners contribute their catering services to nonprofit events, open their shop to other vendors and wares for display, and let people sit comfortably at tables with free WiFi, working away or just goofing off. All the while, they’ve been giving generously to causes across town. What’s more, they do it with a smile.
Kandie says she loves her customers and has been honored to serve the people for this whole time, without exception. “I like making people happy with food,” she says easily.
One of the best parts about the entire experience of running the Produce Place for Kandie, she says, was “spending time with Blake.” It’s rare, the experienced mother continues, that a mom and son at Blake’s age have the opportunity to work together on a common goal.
What’s more, Blake says the same about his mom. The best part of Produce Place for Blake has been “working with mom, for sure. I liked creating that bond between us,” he continues, “and seeing each other every day, instead of being at home doing chores and being nagged at,” as can be the life for many teens. Now, Blake is especially ready to move on.
Riding dirt bikes since he was eight years old, Blake worked on family motorcycles starting as a kid. When the Produce Place first opened, Blake thought he wanted to be a chef. As time passed, so did his desire to work in the food industry.
Instead of culinary concoctions, Blake’s love of mechanics grew. He rebuilt a classic 1965 El Camino pretty much part by part.
“I like wrenching,” he says, “and getting greasy.” It’s not butter he’s talking about, but the mechanic’s life. At C&C Cycles in Oakhurst, he works on street bikes, off road and utility, and Harleys. While his mom may have a teeny residue of separation moodiness, Blake is just “excited” about the changes.
“The building is already leased,” says Kandie, “so there won’t be an empty building here in Oakhurst.”
Kandie looks forward to these next five or so weeks of continued service, and expects a festive atmosphere at the Produce Place, with customers stopping by frequently to get a taste of their special menu while it lasts.
Meanwhile, Blake has big plans, though he may not know what he’s getting into as the roles in their family shifts away from business and back to mother and son.
“He’s the boss here at the Produce Place,” jokes Kandie, “and I’m the boss of him at home.” So where does that leave Blake? Stop in, have some soup, and stay tuned for their next family adventure.