Kale, carrots and peppers are piled high on a refrigerated counter. Potted herbs and other plants hang from the ceiling. Boxes filled with sweet potatoes and apples are stacked on open wooden shelves. And then there’s the man with the shock of teal-blue hair: Pat Breslin, owner of Manayunk’s River City Outpost produce shop.
An advocate of the Slow Food movement, Breslin uses River City to support micro-local farmers, sourcing produce from more than 50 Pennsylvania farms and stocking only what’s in season. “I like to say I talk about asparagus 46 weeks out of the year and I sell it for six weeks out of the year,” Breslin says.
Thanksgiving inaugurates root vegetable season. So right now, River City is brimming with carrots, beets, turnips and a cornocopia of potatoes. Breslin has created an old-fashioned shop where newcomers are welcome but regulars from the neighborhood are the norm. Breslin knows most of his customers by name, and he knows their produce preferences.
The emphasis on personal attention is unfamiliar to many of Manyaunk’s 20-somethings used to the anonymity of big box stores and online shopping. Breslin teaches customers about local produce, introducing them to new ingredients that expand their culinary comfort zones. Breslin is also introducing the Slow Food movement to a new generation of cooks. Founded more than 20 years ago, the movement is based on the belief that slowing the growing of food reduces (or elimnates) the need for antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides. “You don’t have to do [slow eating] all of the time,” he says. “Even if you get it one meal out of the week, there’s a ripple effect in the local economy, local policy and for all of the people in your neighborhood.”
Breslin also sells snack sacks, his version of a community-supported agriculture program. For $20 per week, customers get ingredients for four meals—vegetables, breads, cheeses, yogurt and other goodies, all locally made. Breslin even includes recipes. “I think some people like the spontaneity of it,” he says.
Breslin hasn’t always been in the grocery business. His first career was in banking. But after realizing that he didn’t want to spend his life in a corporate setting, Breslin opened River City Outpost in 2017. “Early on, there was no business plan or whatever,” he says. “It was all love.”
All that love has paid dividends. River City’s loyal patrons keep the shopping humming—and Breslin is keeping his shelves stocked with unique produce for the busy holiday cooking season.