If you get Joyce Zhang, Ben Hartman, and Brian Carroll going on the topic of fruit, it’s easy to see their love and knowledge run deep. The trio is behind Fruitqueen, a new venture aimed at bringing harder-to-find fruit varietals to Bay Area doorsteps every week. They’ve worked in various intersections of the food industry, from farms to restaurants to small grocers, but met while working at online grocery delivery company Good Eggs. Now they’re striking out on their own with this passion project. “The goal for us is to focus on things that are really delicious and height of season,” Carroll says, “but also maybe a little off the beaten track, like a special varietal that’s being grown that we really want to highlight, or a farmer or grower that’s doing something remarkable with their practices and that we think is really cool and want to shout about.”
Care for both products and farms makes up the foundation of Fruitqueen’s values. Primarily focusing on farms and fruit grown across California, each week’s delivery will pack four to five varieties into each box. The group launched an Indiegogo crowd fundraiser to get things rolling, with customers able to choose how many fruit boxes they want; they’ll be available for pickup in San Francisco or delivery throughout the Bay Area. Featured fruits could include Chandler strawberries from Swanton Berry Farms in Davenport, blueberries from Coastal Moon Farm in Watsonville, and Pakistani mulberries from Habitera Farms in Brentwood. It’s all about giving people a sense of discovery, they say. “A lot of people haven’t had a Pakistani mulberry but they’re so delicious and the appeal is obvious once you try it,” Carroll says. “So we’re really excited to get that sweet spot of the classics, and also people know that they can get a box and try something new and have kind of a fun, novel experience.”
The Fruitqueen team already has close relationships with farmers, from both working on farms and sourcing produce for stores. But they’re also looking to highlight the growers behind the fruit by putting information about the fruit and farm into each box, as well as on the business Instagram account @heyfruitqueen — for example, this recent feature on Swanton Berry Farms. “Beyond just the differences in taste, the kind of qualitative differences, there’s also just a host of differences in terms of the stories behind who’s growing and how they’re treating their workers, what kind of cultivation and ecological practices they’re using,” Hartman says. “We’re also hoping to help cultivate — no pun intended — interest and look beyond just the fruit into the larger food system and the larger community behind it.”
Given that they’re a small operation, Fruitqueen can handle more delicate fruit varieties than most vendors and provide fruits that often aren’t available at grocery stores due to the difficulty of transporting them. If things go well, the team plans to build an option for customers to order add-ons, in case someone’s interested in ordering a half-flat of peaches or nectarines. Eventually, they plan to add vegetables and flowers.
For now, with this chain of storms on its way out, Fruitqueen is ready to meet the (fruit) moment. Zhang notes the team is currently fielding text updates from their farm partners and, weather depending, hope to gather the fruit and get their first box out to customers during the first week of May. “We’re really hoping to capture that excitement of spring berries and all this deliciousness in the beginning of stone fruit season and just wow people,” Zhang says.