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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Farmers Market Vendor of the Week: Joe Gotelli & Sons Cherries

Since the ripe age of 5, Shelby Gotelli has been helping her mother sell her family’s cherries at farmers markets, attracting customers with her little cherry dress and standing up on crates to talk to customers.

Today, Gotelli comes home from Pepperdine University for the summers to run her family’s cherry stand at the Davis Farmers Market, and has a different entity doing the advertising: Harry the cherry man, a six-foot-plus UC Davis student who wears a mini apron and insists they grew him that tall to pick the cherries. The folks who run the Joe Gotelli & Sons cherry stand are just a handful of personalities that make up the Davis Farmers Market, each adding a charm to the product and reminding Davis locals why they return to buy their groceries directly from the growers each week.

The Aggie sat down with Shelby Gotelli and her mother, Missy, to get an inside perspective on the specialty cherry business.

The product

Aggie: What types of cherries do you sell?
Shelby: We have the Bing, which is your typical cherry — it’s got that acidic, strong cherry flavor. The Golden Rainiers [the yellow ones] are the sweetest cherries we have, and then we also have the Brook and Coral. Our stand is special because we work with a plant geneticist to create new cherries. We’ve created this one named the Big Red, which we’ll have in a few weeks for a limited time. It’s this huge cherry that’s really crunchy and meaty. We’ve also created the Gibraltar, which is a really big cherry as well with a dark, mild flavor. They’re like our “designer cherries.”
Missy: We bring in a lot of cherries that nobody else has; it brings us our edge in the market. When people buy from us, they know that they’re going to get a quality product.

Their story

Aggie: How did you get involved in the cherry business?
Missy: My husband, Tom, is a third-generation cherry farmer. I just married into this company. It was founded 55 years ago and named after Tom’s grandfather, Joe.

Aggie: So how did the cherries get to the farmers market?
Missy: I was living in Dallas, where I used to work as a teacher. One day a parent made a casual comment, “You have all these cherries, why not sell them at the farmers market?” I had no idea what the farmers market was. They weren’t very popular 19 years ago. But I looked into it, and somehow found a market in Sacramento to get into. I did a test run there, complete with my Dallas hairdo, with small strawberry baskets my husband gave me full of cherries. People lined up and suddenly I was trying to sell them as fast as I could. Long story short, they let me come back, week after week after week. This was 18 years ago. Now I’m on my 19th season, and running 45 different farmers markets.

Aggie: So who helps you manage all of those?
Missy: Employ college students to work the markets in college towns. It’s a blessing to be able to give back to the students, and help them to save the money to travel or [just to enjoy]. [For the future,] Shelby has also told me that she wants to take over the business when she has kids. She has the same passion that I have, the same entrepreneurial sense that is very prevalent in our family. It really ties our family together.

Cooking with cherries

Aggie: What’s your favorite way to enjoy the cherries?
Missy: Fresh is the best way. Favorite way is chocolate dipped; it’s phenomenal. You can buy the Sephra Premium Dark Chocolate at Smart & Final. Wash the cherries, dry them on a paper towel, melt the choc in a microwave, dip them, put all of them on wax paper and put them in the fridge.
Shelby: Chocolate-dipped cherries are amazing. Other than having them fresh, you can freeze them, or make cherry pies; you need about three cups of fresh cherries for a pie. You can also make a sort of cherry breakfast dessert called a clafouti. It’s a really simple custardy dessert just made with cherries, sugar, eggs, flour, and vanilla.

At the Davis Farmers Market

Aggie: You work plenty of markets; what’s special about the one in Davis?
Shelby: Definitely the people. Everyone here is just so nice. I’ve worked here at this market since I was 16. Now we have a whole bunch of regulars, and it’s incredible to be able to see the kids around you grow up.

The Joe Gotelli & Sons cherry stand is only open during cherry season, every Wednesday morning and evening and Saturday morning in May, June and July.

LANI CHAN can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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