“Sorry, I’m on a really bumpy road,” Megan Kimmel apologizes, but it’s not needed. I don’t hear any background noise. She’s making a delivery for her new business, Ridgway Natural Foods, in Ridgway, Colorado, but explains that it’s the final delivery. Kimmel first opened the grocery for online and delivery orders in September of 2020, and then followed with a storefront in November. Since then, walk-in traffic has dwarfed that of the online and delivery side. “People here don’t want an online market, they want a personal touch, and I’m a personal-connection person too,” she said.
Kimmel earlier owned a coffee shop in nearby Silverton, Colorado for a five-year run that ended in late 2014. “I was definitely full-time running,” she simply said of the next five years. That span included a win at the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships and victory in the 2016 Skyrunner World Series. But when her last three-year contract ended in September of 2019, she easily stepped away from competitive racing. “It just felt like, after that three years, I’d been racing for 12 years. I was ready to wrap it up. I raced hard for a lot of years, it was fun, but it’s important to know that something else is out there too,” Kimmel, now age 40, shared. “I was always thinking of something else, and I wasn’t into putting myself out there socially so much.”
She progresses the timeline up to present day. “I went back to massage therapy, an earlier profession, from October 2019 until March 2020, and then COVID-19 hit. I took that as a calling. Life was trying to encourage me to do something else, it was a sign.” Kimmel spent the next six months in a quick turn toward the Ridgway Natural Foods’ opening. Ridgway, a town of 1,000, is nicknamed the “Gateway to the San Juans” for its place just outside of popular tourist destinations like Ouray and Telluride. Ridgway’s had a bit of a boom the last several years too, but Kimmel likens that similar growth in much of the rest of Colorado. She’s lived in Ridgway since 2015.
“Yeah, it was quick. You know I say that I was a full-time racer more than a full-time runner, I do things quickly. This was all formulated in COVID-19. I started out as an individual and now it’s a partnership. I gained a partner, the power of two,” Kimmel relayed with a brisk cadence. Her partner is a longtime restauranteur who’s brought a fresh-food focus alongside Kimmel’s operational acumen, and things are taking off. “Our vision is to be much more than a grocery,” she said of the future and their community presence.
Kimmel bootstrapped the opening into a 550-square-foot space in an industrial park. “We started small and we’re already busting at the seams, already looking for a bigger location. We found that online was not the key to our success,” she steps through with a pause. “But once we opened our doors and with the partnership, it’s really clarified our visions. We were spending too much time on delivery.” Deliveries stretched across Ouray County, 10 miles in one direction from Ridgway and 15 miles the other.
Nearly everything’s sourced locally. There’s beef from ranches in Montrose, eggs from Olathe, and quinoa from Mosca, for example. Kimmel explains the relationships, her passion spiking as she talks more. “I had a sense for what’s going on. You know, there were systems set up to steer me too, like a local distributor. And I talk to the community and am continuing to reach out. This area, this county, this region is really known for beef. Being able to buy local meet, it’s pretty killer. We’ve got eggs to sell to the community from local ranches. A lot of people are growing veggies, you can have local carrots and local apples all year long.” Her partner’s restaurant experience ensures that they get the freshest fish too.
Kimmel and her partner expect to contribute to the product set themselves too. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg right now. We don’t have a commercial kitchen, so we can only do raw foods–juices, pestos, hummuses–but we’ll expand. A lot will happen this summer.” The pulp extract from their juices is returned to local ranches for chickens, and Kimmel swears, “Our eggs have the darkest yolks in America.” She’s gushing about the eggs, and I, perhaps naively, have to ask if dark yolks are good then. “Yeah, totally,” she insists, and she’s right. A dark yolk is more common in free-range hens, and it’s indicative of what a chicken eats.
The food’s one part of the mission, and less waste is another. The grocery has a bottle-exchange program, and Kimmel explains the simple process. “You purchase a jar, bring it back clean, we sanitize it, reuse it. It eliminates waste, plastic, and people are really into it. There’s actually a huge jar shortage this year, it’s an interesting ride, but cool. It’s awesome to know this population is into it. Our vision was to be zero waste, but waste is pretty tricky. Recycling is great, but reducing and reusing is really where it’s at.”
Kimmel proudly feels that community impact too. “We’re bringing in resources to better the community. There are so many reasons to be doing this. Everyone was driving to Montrose and now we’re giving people back time, energy, and money. People are conscious of where they’re getting their goods. Racing was about fulfilling and manifesting a dream, but this is more rewarding. Doing that stuff was for me, but this is good for other people too.”
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