From left: Marckus Williams, co-owner of Indy Fresh Market; Joseph Welsh, consultant and lead; and Michael McFarland, co-owner of Indy Fresh Market
It may be described as a food desert, but one neighborhood in Indianapolis is anything but sparse in terms of people wanting to solve the problem. Indeed, the creation of Indy Fresh Market on the east side of this Midwestern city can be viewed as a model in meeting the needs of underserved communities by tapping into local, regional and national resources.
Progressive Grocer recently talked with one of the owners, Michael McFarland, and with Joseph Welsh of Joseph Welsh Consulting LLC of Las Vegas. They shared details about how the store came together – and how the community is coming together – through the joint efforts of many people behind the scenes.
In 2019, McFarland and his childhood friend, Marckus Williams, opened a small store called Wall Street Market with just $500 in capital to launch the venture. They didn’t set out to be grocers, but did have a background in entrepreneurship, with McFarland opening a clothing store and car detailing business following his service in the U.S. military. “We were talking and realized that all of the grocery stores in the neighborhood were closed. We saw the lack of stores in the community and decided to give it a try,” recalls McFarland.
Their efforts caught the attention of local officials. The City of Indianapolis hired Welsh – also known as “Joe the Grocer” – to provide technical assistance for local startup grocery stores, including Wall Street Market. Later, Pete Yonkman, the CEO of Cook Medical, which ran a large medical device manufacturing facility in the neighborhood, connected with Welsh. Their goals aligned, as Yonkman aimed to build a store near the plant as part of a bigger development.
Following Cook Medical’s seed money, other supporters soon came into the project. Goodwill Industries facilitated a $600,000 grant, the Central Indiana Community Foundation raised nearly $750,000 from local donors and the state of Indiana gave resources for economic development.
“We were already doing work in the community and had the network, and invited Pete (Cook) to our small store. Later, he and Kent at Goodwill shot over the idea of us operating a grocery store,” remembers McFarland.
The need was acute. “Indianapolis is known as one of the most food insecure areas in America – they have 275,000 food-insecure people,” reports Welsh. “When I met Michael and Marckus, they were washing cars on the side of the building – they’d take $50 (at a time) to buy food for the store. I thought, ‘If they can hustle like that, I can be here until the end.'”
As investments jumpstarted the project, McFarland and Williams got to work learning the ropes of the grocery business. After their Wall Street Market lease expired, they started apprenticeships at grocery stores around the United States and completed their retail grocery certificates at Martin University, an HBCU in Indianapolis. They took their learnings back to Indy Fresh Market, where they serve as operators in a rent-to-own arrangement.