Irvington resident Chad Heeter has lived all over the world, but the allure of launching a business has brought the former teacher and filmmaker back to Indianapolis. Heeter, who was director, editor and senior producer for documentary “Two Million Minutes,” which followed two Carmel students — as well as students from India and China – throughout high school, has moved back to Indianapolis to put down roots and explore a new career path.
“I fall into the category of ‘wantrepreneur,’” Heeter said, “the person who has sort of always dreamed of being an entrepreneur but never gets around to it.”
Until this past spring, Heeter, who grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, was editor-in-chief of the documentary film unit at Qatar Television in Doha, Qatar. In April, though, he and his family settled back down in Irvington and he finally got around to launching Heeter’s Homegrown. He now sells the company’s first product, called Garbaage, at area farmers’ markets. The salsa-like dip, based on a family recipe, includes olives, tomatoes, onions and peppers.
“You can call it a dip,” he said. “You can call it a relish. You can call it a tapenade. We prefer to call it a Mediterranean salsa.”
Whatever you call it, the product has been a hit at area farmers’ markets, which has confirmed Heeter’s notion that others would enjoy his family recipe, something he had thought about for years.
“For the last 20 years, it’s been on my mind to create this product and sell it,” Heeter said.
And though he figured it would be a hit with market shoppers, he also knew they might think he was nuts for choosing the offbeat name — and for using a garbage truck on his label.
“I know it sounds like we’ve made a mistake in naming it,” he said, “but that’s what my mom called it. And to be honest, I didn’t know what else to call it. People will read it and think, ‘Wow, I want to try that.’ The name ‘Garbaage’ elicits a chuckle right off the bat.”
Shoppers have indeed been eager to try the product, Heeter said, and their request for more heat lead to the creation of a spicier version that’s now outselling the original.
“Farmers’ market clientele are unique in that they’re not doing all their shopping at Kroger or Marsh or local chain stores,” Heeter said. “They take a morning or afternoon to come to the market to find something local, something fresh, something delicious. And to find something unique.”
And for Heeter, manning a booth a farmers’ markets means he can do plenty of research.
“The great thing about farmers’ markets is that, at least for me, is I really use them as research opportunities,” he said. “I spend at least a portion of my time at the market chatting not only with the customers, but with other vendors to find out what’s selling and what people are interested in.
And what he sees is a growing interest in local food.
“You have a greater interest in local food sources,” he said. “You have a greater interest in how food’s being grown. My impression is that there’s an expectation for better quality food, to know where the food comes from and to be eating fresher food, especially in season.”
Plus, he said, farmers’ markets provide a way for entrepreneurs like himself to see if they’ve got what it takes.
“Farmers markets are great incubators for product development,” he said, “for testing out product and seeing if it will sell.”
That has certainly been the case at the Indianapolis City Market, said executive director Stevi Stoesz Kersh.
“The outdoor farmers’ market has actually incubated some of our great merchants inside City Market,“ she said, mentioning such now-established businesses as Circle City Sweets and 3 Days in Paris crepes. “It’s so great to see stellar products, stellar business models incubating at farmers’ markets and going into more of the brick and mortar.”
Heeter, who sells at the Wednesday downtown market as well as others, thinks there are more such businesses out there just waiting for the opportunity. In fact, helping others to bring their idea to fruition is part of the vision for his own company.
“That’s one of the things we want to do as a company,” he said, “help people identify new products and help get them to market eventually. I know there are a lot of families that have those kinds of recipes that they take to gatherings and take to parties. I think a lot of people would be able to develop a product that could then sell at farmers’ markets and stores.”
It’s all about telling the story, he said.
And when you look at it that way, Heeter’s transition from filmmaker to farmers’ market vendor doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
“Part of the reason I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he said, “is I’m continuing to tell stories. Right now I’m telling my own personal story about this product. Being able to tell these stories, to sell a product through that story, that’s what we’re doing, and that’s what more people can do. It’s telling the story of the recipe.”
For more information about Garbaage Mediterranean salsa and where it's available, look for Heeter's Homegrown on Facebook.
Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com. Follow her on Twitter @JKetzenberger.