February 28, 2010 in City

Dairy keeps open a milkman niche

Convenience, nostalgia fuel 90 years of daily deliveries
Erika Schultz Seattle Times
 
Erika Schultz Seattle Times photo

At the Helpline House, a Bainbridge Island food bank and social-service provider, Travis Eaton stocks milk, which some Smith Brothers customers choose to pay for as a community service, on Saturday. Seattle Times
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. – Travis Eaton navigates his father’s old truck down a dirt road, spotted with muddy potholes on a recent early morning.

With precision, he jumps in and out of the truck to stash each family’s milk, eggs and butter in an insulated box or garage refrigerator.

Each week, Eaton winds through Bainbridge Island’s forested roads, delivering to about 550 households.

Later this year, Eaton, his family and the 60 employees at Smith Brothers Farms will celebrate 90 years of providing home dairy service to the Puget Sound region. They pasteurize, package and distribute a variety of products to more than 40,000 homes from Olympia to Mount Vernon.

Smith Brothers is one of only a handful of home-delivery dairies still serving a metropolitan area in the United States, said Brian Soudant, sales and marketing manager at Smith Brothers.

“In the 1950s, there were over 30 companies doing home delivery throughout the Puget Sound,” Soudant said. “When refrigeration became commonplace in the American home, it decreased the demand for daily milk delivery. That, coupled with the advent of the modern-day supermarket, put a lot of stress on the dairy home-delivery service.”

Therese Coad, a Bainbridge Island resident, grew up with a milkman and carries on the tradition.

“I’m very, very busy, and I always feel like I’m going a million miles an hour,” Coad said. “The milkman, when I see him, it slows me down a little bit. It’s something from the past that has been able to continue in this incredible busy world that we live in.”

Eaton, a University of Washington graduate and fourth-generation Smith Brothers Farms family member, said he prefers the open road to a traditional 9-to-5 profession.

“I’ve had a handful of office jobs,” he said. “I prefer working outdoors, especially in the summer.”

Eaton also likes the exercise, working on his own schedule and being admired by young children. And when Eaton is in a serious bind he can call his father out of retirement to help with his route.


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