Spokane, Wash.—If Yoke’s looks familiar, it should. I stopped by this Spokane-based independent a year ago on a store check, while in town to speak at the Peirone Produce fall expo.

The folks at Peirone invited me back, so I decided to take another look at Yoke’s. This 17-store independent shines in Spokane, with large, open produce departments, a strong focus on organics, and some of the most approachable people you’ll find in retail. I had a nice chat with Duane Wentz, produce merchandiser, about what makes the 72-year-old chain take such a fresh approach to retail.

duane wentz yokes
Duane Wentz

“This is going to sound familiar, but we’re all about the people,” Wentz says. “We try to empower these guys. They have the power to make sure people have an exceptional experience.”

Wentz says Yoke’s has employees carry special cards, ‘This one’s on us,’ which customers can take to the cashier and get their item free of charge. They’re used when a customer reports a negative experience, or perhaps isn’t sure about trying a new item.

And while Idaho and eastern Washington may not have the reputation for hotbeds of fresh produce consumption — actually, it’s meat and potatoes country, Wentz says — the growth in fresh produce, particularly organic produce, is steady.

“This store here, actually, it’s a meat and potatoes store,” Wentz says. “When we remodeled we were concerned this store could sell as much organic as what we were putting in here. It’s been just the opposite.”

Wentz says as Yoke’s shifts focus toward more organic, customers are reinforcing their demand.

“We’re pushing hard, because obviously organic isn’t everything, but it is important for us to have the variety we have,” he says. “The more we sell, the more people come to us for it.”

Wentz has spent most of his career at Yoke’s, in produce. He says the most enriching part of the job is meeting with growers, discovering new things, and bringing those back to customers.

“Produce is fun. It’s challenging. It’s always changing,” he says. “For me, it’s fun to be able to find something that you can really believe in, and then share it with everyone.”

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