When Constance and David Jesser first opened the doors of the Jacksonville Mercantile they set out to become Southern Oregon’s premier destination for food lovers and gourmets. Now in their seventh year of business their reputation for fine food and excellence brings them more closely towards their goal. Now on the map as the “Go To” destination they receive a steady stream of food lovers from far and wide. I decided to talk with them about their store, cooking classes and participation in the blossoming agri-tourism movement and gastro – culture now taking hold in the Rogue Valley.
Constance & David, thanks for speaking with us today. Can you start by telling us a little bit about the Jacksonville Mercantile and the vision you first had when you opened your doors seven years ago?
We sell specialty and gourmet foods, gifts and gift baskets. We also carry wine, Applegate Valley Wine passports and now offer in-store cooking classes. Our goal was to be the Rogue Valley’s finest and most diverse gourmet food store and to become the place for chefs, home cooks and gourmet gift givers. Back 7 years ago when we opened there wasn’t a single store to get the wide range of gourmet and specialty items we have become accustomed too. Allyson’s of Ashland was here and had some nice items, but we wanted to create a much deeper selection. We have certainly done that and more!
Can you give us a little background of the passion you both share for fine foods and wine?
“We are some of the people you hear about, we live to eat, not eat to live,” says Constance “ I have always had a passion for food, particularly baking. It probably is genetic as my grandfather was a baker. Then in 1995 I started schooling at C.H.I.C., a Cordon Bleu affiliate where I honed my skills and received my BA in culinary arts. David – “ I have always enjoyed fine food and fine wine. When we lived on a vineyard in Sonoma in 2003, I thought it would be pretty cool to have been there 30 years ago with a vision of being in the food and wine business. Voila here we are.“
What has it been like to watch the Mercantile grow into a destination for food lovers from far and wide?
“It makes us feel great when people discover our shop and tell all their friends. I joke that we have the largest gourmet pantry around,” says Constance. “We now have many loyal local customers, as well as returning visitors, who make our dream all the more rewarding. With our new cooking classes we are making great new friends and helping people feel more comfortable in the kitchen. It’s really a lot of fun!”
I’ve heard it mentioned that the Jacksonville Mercantile is like a mini Dean and Deluca?
“We’ve heard that before and we certainly paid attention to their business model,” notes David. For those who don’t know the name, Dean and Deluca is a New York and Napa Valley high-end gourmet food and gift store and a deli. We are similar in the sense that we carry gourmet foods and gifts, but we don’t have a deli or the super high price tags!
You guys are a premier source for gourmet gift baskets, gourmet food gifts and more. Can you tell us a little bit about some of your favorite items you sell?
We’re both big fans of truffle products and carry the widest selection most people have seen. Constance loves baking, so of course we carry all the hard-to-find extracts, sugars and spices. She also made sure we have both local and Swiss chocolates. Some of our customer favorites are the wide selection of balsamic vinegar, pastas, oils, vinegars and sea salts. Our most popular products are our JM traditional balsamic vinegar and our Infused Avocado Oils.
Gift Baskets have been a real favorite for many of your customers. Can you tell us more about them?
Because we offer custom made baskets vs. offering only pre- made baskets, we work to ensure that the gift basket recipient will know that you put in the extra effort to personalize their gift. A few of our corporate clients told us that when they started using us for their holiday baskets they received phone calls thanking them for such a thoughtful gift. We were thrilled to hear that. Come in and shop with us, or If you prefer we will happily create the perfect selection based on a few easy to answer questions. Either way we will make your gift stand out and be memorable.
Constance, can you tell us a little bit about the customer experience when shopping at your store?
When shopping at the Mercantile we will go out of our way to make sure you enjoy all of your items. David and I use and taste every item in the shop so we have personal knowledge of how to use them. Everyone who works at the Mercantile has a passion for food and are excellent cooks. People love the personalized service and so do we. We offer samples of many of our products and invite foodies to come in and try them. This way, you’ll know what they taste like before taking them home with you. And, if you need advice from home, we are only a phone call away.
David, can you talk a little bit about how you go about choosing and stocking products for the Mercantile?
In the beginning it was easy. I said, “ Constance, what would you fill this new store of ours with?” Soon the deliveries began. Along the years distributors and producers have tracked us down through our website www.JacksonvilleMercantile.com. They call to ask us if we would have an interest in carrying their products. Samples arrive and we put it through the test…..the taste test. At this point we have created strong personal relationships with a range of gourmet purveyors and they all keep an eye out for the newest products. In addition, we attend the fancy food shows and Constance’s ever expanding library of foodie magazines keeps her well tuned to the next big thing.
Constance you were originally trained at a Cordon Bleu school and are now offering cooking classes via the Mercantile. Can you tell us more about this?
The classes are really a lot of fun and have been very well received. Most classes are demonstration classes where you receive the recipes, watch how they are prepared, learn the history behind the dish and discover why things are done a certain way. Then, you get to taste the food along with sampling of some wine. Most classes run $25, a great value if I may say so. Classes are limited to 12 people and do fill up quickly, as they are really a good time.
David, aside from the Mercantile you are also a City Councilor and quite involved in the community of Jacksonville. How do you see the growing agri-tourism movement within the Rogue Valley re-shaping the local economy and creating opportunities?
Needless to say we have been in an uncertain economic environment for quite some time.
As a City Councilor and leader in the Jacksonville Oregon Business Association, I work to bring a sense of balance and objectivity to the process. On a local level, I tend to equate a strong Jacksonville with a strong business community, one that nurtures regional partnerships and one that is in balance with Jacksonville’s Historic small town character. Agri-tourism associated with the growing wine industry seems a natural as the demographic of the culinary tourist pairs perfectly with the other classics offered in our valley. I refer to Britt Music Festival and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The nature of this agri-tourist component of tourism, in addition to our existing regional draws, is that many different types of businesses will benefit from a visitor who stays longer and spends a little more due to an enhanced overall experience. The region is becoming more and more about music, wine, art and food and we are pleased to be a part of that shift.
Please talk about the philosophy behind “Eat Global – Shop Local”?
The eat global aspect to that is that there are many delicious foods from all over the world and we feel lucky to live in a time when they are accessible. We want people to experience the best. This accessibility only can happen if we make it locally available. By shopping local for these products, versus searching online or shopping at a big-box retailer, you help a small business become successful. When a small local business is successful that generally means there are more jobs created, more deliveries made and more brochures printed and more advertising dollars spent locally. When the locals shop in small businesses like ours, this enables us to give to more local charities. That’s how the Shop Local part pays dividends to a wide range of associated vendors / partners.
David, you specialize in food gifts of all types, give us an idea of some of the best gourmet food gifts you’ve seen being created?
Our clients always tell us how much they love the gift baskets that we have created with or for them. One of my favorites is the all about truffles gift basket. Truffle Oil, Truffle Salt, Truffle Pasta, Truffle Caviar, Truffle Honey and the list goes on. Often a few Swiss chocolate truffles get thrown in to boot. Another great food gift has been the cooking classes. People love to come learn and spend time with other food lovers regardless of their level of culinary experience.
Any final comments you would like to share with our readers?
We want to invite everyone unfamiliar with The Jacksonville Mercantile to come visit us in Jacksonville, mention you heard about us in the Locals Guide and be prepared for a culinary adventure.
120 E California St