‘Man of the Year’ Jim McWhorter
WHEN JIM MCWHORTER TURNED A USED POST OFFICE VAN INTO A BURGEONING BUSINESS IN HIS EARLY 20S, HE COULDN’T HAVE PREDICTED THAT A LIFELONG CAREER IN PRODUCE WOULD SOMEDAY BESTOW HIM THE HONOR OF MAN OF THE YEAR— BUT THE POTOMAC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE GAVE HIM THE 2018 TITLE—PLAQUE, PARADE AND ALL.
That used post office van turned into a $300-million-ayear business by the time Jim “retired” from it.
“I guess you could say we did OK,” Jim says.
What started as L&M Produce was bought out by Coastal Sunbelt Produce in 2007, the largest wholesaler of fruits, veggies and dairy products in the mid-Atlantic area.
“L&M was a niche in the market; we sold mostly to high-end places,” Jim says. “Coastal Sunbelt served national chains, so it was a good fit for everybody.”
While he serves Coastal Sunbelt as more of an ambassador now, he stays busy in other ways—he and his wife, Yasmin Abadian, have their hands in a few different food establishments in the D.C. area.
“Yasmin and I have run into a lot of people over the years in the food industry with good ideas,” Jim says.
They are proud partners in DC Brau and &pizza. They own Fruitive, a raw, vegan, organic restaurant in downtown D.C. known for its salads and smoothies, and they own a portion of Brookland Pint, also in D.C.
But their bread and butter is in giving back to the community that has served them well by way of The Market at River Falls. The market has been a staple of the area for more than 19 years. Jim and Yasmin took over business operations four years ago.
“Jim was threatening to retire,” Yasmin says, laughing. “I said, ‘Well you’re not just going to sit at home. We’ll figure something else out for you.’ We were already vendors and customers, so it all felt pretty familiar.”
The market is stocked with locally sourced products, including honey, eggs, and jams from Potomac, and wine from Poolesville. Customers weren’t accustomed to it at first, but Jim says now folks come in specifically to ask for local foods.
“Our mission here—our way of thinking—is to sell food you would be proud to feed your grandchildren,” he says. “There are no chemicals or antibiotics, no GMOs in anything, and 95 percent of the prepared foods are made on the premises. And we make it a point to support local food producers.”
“I know that’s what distinguishes us from the other markets in the area,” Yasmin adds. “Because we really do care about what we sell to our customers.”
They also started promoting Community First Days, which is when they donate 20 percent of their sales to local food-driven nonprofits on the first day of most months. Earlier this year, they raised money for Freshfarm (of which Jim is vice chairman) by hosting a Styx concert at Strathmore Hall.
“We definitely feel we’re a part of the community, we’re very fortunate to live here,” Yasmin says. “We’re a community business; most of the people who shop here probably come from within a 3-mile radius. So it’s important to give back to the community because we have the best customers. We truly do, they’re wonderful.”
“The thing I’m most proud of with all this food stuff is that, over the years, companies that I either owned or partnered in created thousands of good jobs—obs with above-market wages, health insurance, paid vacations and other benefits— the right kind of jobs,” Jim says.
Jim isn’t all work and no play though—he and Yasmin like to travel, though their trips aren’t quite as adventurous as Jim’s used to be. “In my younger days, I rode camels in the Sahara Desert and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. I went to Brazil to swim in the river with piranhas,” he says. “What you learn is that, if you go during the dry season, there’s not much food, so the piranha will eat you. If you go during the rainy season, when the rivers overflow and the fish go wherever they want and eat whatever they want, they’re not interested in you. They’d much rather eat a snake or something. So it’s safe—but it does take a leap of faith to trust that it’s safe.
“I used to jump out of airplanes; I’ve skydived 40 times. Not so much anymore.”
“And he golfs,” Yasmin adds with a chuckle.
Visit MarketRiverFalls.com for more food information including catering and seasonal menus.