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The milkman cometh

That symbol of retro suburbia is making the rounds again in Southern California.

July 08, 2010|By Rene Lynch, Los Angeles Times
  • Jim Pastor's service contracts with Rockview Dairy to bring milk to more than 4,800 SoCal homes.
Jim Pastor's service contracts with Rockview Dairy to bring milk… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

One of the hardest parts of Jim Pastor's job is convincing people that he exists: He's a milkman.

"The reaction is always the same," Pastor said. "People say, 'Really? A milkman? Like in the old days?' They always have a hard time believing it."

Pastor owns a Santa Ana-based delivery service that contracts with Rockview Farms, one of the largest family-owned dairies in Southern California. Each week, Pastor and his team of 14 milkmen drive their refrigerated trucks to more than 4,800 homes along routes in Los Angeles and Orange counties. They arrive in the wee morning hours and dash up to the front door, leaving behind cartons of farm-fresh milk, cheese, eggs, bread, butter and more.

There is a premium, of course: A gallon of milk delivered by Pastor is about 20 to 30 cents more than you'll find it at the store. But business has never been better. Relying largely on word-of-mouth, Pastor picked up 300 new residential clients just last month, and he's planning to expand home-delivery routes into Marina del Rey and Santa Monica.

The food world's rallying cry of recent years — "eat local, eat organic" — is lending new life to local dairies such as Downey-based Rockview Farms, which keeps its own dairy cows in Chino and other parts of Northern California and processes its own milk, including a line of organic dairy products. Using local advertising, word-of-mouth or old-fashioned door-to-door sales, these dairies spread the word that home delivery is not a thing of the past.

Freshness is their calling card: That milk lands on your doorstep in as little as 48 hours after milking, says Carole Roquemore, the director of marketing for Rockview. The dairy's business model eschews buying placement on supermarket shelves and instead focuses on home delivery and independently owned markets. In all, Rockview delivers milk and dairy products to more than 7,500 homes in the Southland.

"I like the idea that we are supporting a local business, and a local dairy," said Joanne Irish of Long Beach, who has been on one of Pastor's routes for a decade now. "We love milk, and I just got tired of schlepping milk around." But she said she was really sold on the taste. "I know this sounds crazy but we actually did a blind taste test with supermarket milk and the fresh milk. You can really taste a difference."

Being a milkman is all that Pastor, 52, has ever known. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he had no idea what to do after high school when he got a job with a dairy to do "shagging": Paired up with a driver, Pastor would provide the nimble legs that would jump in and out of the milk truck and dash up to the front porches to speed up delivery. "It was a great way to stay in shape," he said.

Soon, he became a driver, and then realized he had a knack for business and customer service. (When a longtime customer was hospitalized not long ago, one of Pastor's employees visited her, and brought a bouquet of flowers and a card.) He and his wife, Sherri, bought their own route in 1979 and began building their business from there.

The back of Pastor's refrigerated truck is stacked high with milk crates filled with products that reflect the demands of picky customers who are used to getting what they want when they want it. Between milk, soy milk and Lactaid, there are 16 varieties to choose from. There's also half-and-half, buttermilk, sour cream, smoothies, eggs, sliced cheeses, pies, quiche, nine-grain bread and other artisan baked goods from Picket Lane Bakery in Orange County, as well as coffees, scones, turnovers, cookies, bagels, fresh pastas and fresh-squeezed orange juice from other sources. Another new addition to the line are seasonal fresh fruit and vegetable boxes from Tanaka Farms.

And if there's something else that his customers want, Pastor says, he'll get it.

"In this day and age, you have to have variety to stay in business," he explains with a shrug.

To most Americans, the milkman is a symbol of simpler times, when dairy farms were commonplace and markets weren't. In the 1940s and '50s, many American families received home delivery of milk and other daily necessities, said Jim Carroll, president of the Massachusetts-based International Home Delivery Assn.

In those days, double-income families were a rarity and the milkman was a common part of the landscape: The milk truck could make its rounds all day long, because Mom was sure to be home.

Supermarkets and corner convenience stores changed all that when they began cropping up in the 1960s. They cut into the milkman's business in part by slashing milk prices to get customers in the door.

But the milkman never really went away. He hung on thanks to customers who lived too far from a supermarket, had kids who went through milk like water or were reaching their twilight years and no longer wanted to lug around heavy containers. In the Northeast, Carroll said, the inclement weather is a boon for the milk delivery business.

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