Whether he’s selling frozen yogurt, artisanal cheese, or craft beer, Alex Feinstein ’03 promotes the benefits of Pioneer Valley foods
If you believe as strongly as Alex Feinstein ’03 does in the community-building power of local foods, you have to be willing to put your money where you think our mouths should be. His two businesses—GoBerry, a two-store frozen yogurt chain, and Provisions, a boutique offering fine wine, craft beers, and specialty cheeses and meats—do just that, celebrating and supporting the economy of the Pioneer Valley by offering a host of locally sourced products.
“We’ve been passionate about working locally,” Alex explains, noting, for example, that all of the milk and yogurt used at GoBerry is from local farms. “That’s one thing I like to do as much as possible. Trying to source things locally, and eat locally as much as possible.”
A Northampton native, Alex was a water polo player at Williston and continued playing at Connecticut College, where he met his future wife and partner, Molly, at the pool (she was a swimmer). After graduating in 2007 with a degree in anthropology and a minor in philosophy, he took a job in finance and IT for Ze-gen, a now-defunct renewable energy start-up in Boston that was working to create a synthetic gas to compete with natural gas. As the fourth employee, he helped raise money and establish a test facility, and “learned a lot about how to run and grow a business.”
But after three years he was ready to start his own. “It was something I had always wanted to do. As a kid, I would come up with inventions and different business ideas. I always thought that I would end up doing something on my own.”
As it happened, Molly had developed an allergy to milk fat and could eat only nonfat dairy products. That led to their discovery of nonfat frozen yogurt, which soon became a shared obsession. And even though the frozen yogurt craze was sweeping Boston, the couple noticed that there was nothing west of Worcester. They sensed an opportunity.
They launched GoBerry in Northampton in 2010 and a second store in Amherst in 2011, offering locally sourced frozen yogurt, local berries in season, and toppings of every imaginable variety. “Molly and I work really well together,” Alex notes. “We have really complementary skills.” Molly worked with the employees and people; Alex handled the books, payroll, and back-end jobs. Still, running a business is a test. “The hard part is the long hours. Even when you’re not there, you’re thinking about it.”
With GoBerry established, Alex turned to a new endeavor. He wanted to start a “great, hand-selected wine store in the heart of Northampton,” and eventually he and a group of partners, including his wine-enthusiast cousin, transformed a former Pilates studio downtown into Provisions, a boutique specializing in fine wine, craft beer, and specialty foods—most notably a full-service cheese and meat counter. Alex was not actively involved in the running of the business until two years ago, when two of the partners left. Now, he and his cousin are the sole co-owners.
The business had been struggling before Alex returned to help out, but “we managed to turn things around,” he reports. “The last two years have been the most successful we’ve had here, one after the other, and I hope to continue in that direction.”
One key, he says, was “getting the business more involved in the community. We’ve gone a lot more into local stuff. We have a lot of local cheeses, we have a ton of local beer, we have a handful of local wines. We do that as much as possible.” Which all ties in to his view that local prosperity depends on local actions. “There’s definitely a lot that can happen in the political realm, but ultimately it really does come back to the consumer,” he says. “Sure, I use Amazon, but I like to look around and think, ‘Can I buy this locally? Can I support a small business in my area?’ I think that really helps drive an economy and create local jobs. It can be difficult or more expensive, but I do think people are moving more in that direction. I like to think that the motivation is there worldwide.”
Alex’s life has become even more full in recent years. He now cares for his two young sons two days a week, after Molly took a full-time job last year. Still, he is always thinking about new opportunities. “I don’t think there’s anything in the cards for 2017,” he says. “But what really inspires me is starting businesses. I love problem-solving and creation. So I don’t think I am done at this point.”