Meet Andy and Katie Skikos of Andy’s Produce
Everyone in the West County knows and has come to depend on Andy’s Produce Market north of Sebastopol on Highway 116.
Whether it’s spices or organic grains in bulk, starter plants in the spring or just lots of fresh, affordably priced produce, Andy’s keeps the local tables full. It has been feeding West County residents for generations. The Sebastopol stand will celebrate its 50th anniversary next April.
Yet locals may not know Andy and Katie Skikos, the souls behind the market. They are now retired but with a second and third generation of their family continuing the family business and traditions.
Andy, 80, and Katie, 78, enjoy their leisure now and like traveling, especially cruising. They have earned it. It doesn’t take long to realize they are hardworking and very brave.
Andy’s father emigrated to the U.S. from Greece when he was just 16 and traveled to Utah, where the mountains reminded him of his homeland and where he had relatives. Andy and Katie were both born in Utah, as were five of their children.
“I was in the produce business there, but winters were tough,” says Andy. “There were no crops. I took any work I could get. I had an aunt in Sacramento and decided to check into a place with a mild winter.
“From there I went to the famous San Francisco produce market where another Greek, Louis Nicholatakis, advised me to contact Sal Pusatero in Santa Rosa. I was awed by all produce he was unloading from his trucks. I called Katie and said, ‘The grass is green here. I have found Eden.’”
The couple packed up their car and truck and set off on the epic road trip to their future, traveling in the wee hours while the children slept to make the trip easier. Summer had come, and when they arrived the grass was dried up.
“Where’s the green grass you told me about?” asked Katie. She found out the following winter.
They opened their first produce stand in Santa Rosa and worked hard. Andy got up at 1 or 2 a.m. to drive to the San Francisco produce market, and later expanded to the various farms all over the state.
“He went to Oregon for potatoes, to Manteca for melons, Lindsay for oranges,” said Katie. In the meantime she kept the stand going and cared for the kids.
They had little money in the early days, and most of it was reinvested in keeping the business supplied.
“We had neighbors next to the stand who took us under their wing, and they’d come over to babysit or help out,” Katie said.
Andy kept making farm connections in his quest for freshness and good prices. “I could get the produce a day fresher and eliminate the middle men so I could offer lower prices to our customers by going to the farm instead of the produce market,” he said.
When the Highway 12 freeway was being constructed, the couple worried that their stand would lose business, so they opened up the stand in Sebastopol to serve tourists. Instead they found lots of locals eager for fresh produce.
“Our business actually increased because people found it easier to get to us. Then Sebastopol took off,” said Andy.
One of the farm families they met was the Kozlowskis.
“They were growing it locally, we were selling locally. It was a match,” said Andy.
“In more ways than one,” laughed Katie. Their daughter Julie married Perry Kozlowski. Andy and Katie now have 19 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, with a 23rd on the way.
“The heart stretches, and you always make room in it for more. We love them all,” said Katie.
“All our children are now grandparents,” said Andy.
All the children and many of the grandchildren have worked in the business.
“The key is they have to work well. It is not a free ride,” said Andy.
They all seem to have inherited their elders’ work ethic. Andy believes that one bad word about a business is equal to 20 compliments.
“Our motto is that we want tomorrow’s business, so we take care of our customers today.”