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Milkman for the 21st century

Alamo resident brings milk, meals on wheels

For generations, it was a common sight to see on the American landscape: deliverymen dressed in white from head to toe, driving up to homes in matching white trucks with side door openings, rushing bottles of ice-cold milk to the porches and front steps of waiting families.

The milk was contained in dimpled, clear glass bottles that milkmen would plunge into metal boxes that were filled with crushed ice to keep the precious cargo cold until retrieved.

In many rural and suburban communities across the United States, home milk delivery was as American as mom's apple pie, drive-through hamburger joints and "Leave it to Beaver." From the 1950s to the early 1970s, the height of home milk delivery, nearly every house on the block would get a visit in the morning from a smiling milkman. He became a part of the neighborhood and it could be said that the neighborhood milkman was almost as familiar a sight as the mailman.

Locally, home milk delivery was big time, characterized by Berkeley Farms trucks traveling from one town to another.

But during the mid-'70s, people's needs changed. As customers dwindled and the cost of gasoline skyrocketed, home milk delivery became a thing of the past.

Seeing a milk truck isn't that common anymore, so when one is seen, it has the potential to turn heads.

Pat Borella is a rare Bay Area commodity -- he is a milkman, based in Alamo. And even though home milk delivery went out of style long ago, Borella's business is thriving. In April, he quietly celebrated 30 years as a milkman and he's still going strong. His secret: adapting to the changing times.

Originally, Borella started his business in Santa Rosa. By 1990, he had four milk trucks, employees and his business was booming. Eventually, he started serving East Bay communities, followed by San Francisco and the Peninsula.

In 1997, Borella purchased the home delivery business from Royal Jersey, adding additional East Bay routes.

"I was beginning to realize that it was becoming too much," Borella said. "So, I decided to make it more of a small business."

Today, Borella does it solo. His wife, Kathy, manages the family business from their home office.

"It is completely different now. Before, we had so many customers that we ran the deliveries in the middle of the night," he added.

In order to downsize, Borella needed to "reinvent" the business by increasing the number of products he could deliver to his clients.

"Many people want more than just milk. So, we started offering other items, such as eggs, cheeses, juices. We also offer all types of foods," he said. "The entire dairy line, pasta, fish, fancy cheeses like brie, special orders, fruits, vegetables, organic, non-organic, you name it. Almost anything you can imagine, we can get."

Borella strives to provide products that are locally produced. Every week, his customers fill out an order form, which lists more than 300 products, and they check off what they want.

As for the milk, he carries them in glass bottles, just like the old days. As he drives his routes, milk bottles clank against one another.

Emphasizing the importance of fresh products, Borella said his main product -- milk -- is fresh from the farm within 24 to 36 hours.

The business thrives not just on the Borellas' business savvy, but also from the allure of home milk delivery. Strangers wave to him as he drives by. He has become a familiar presence in many East Bay neighborhoods as he lumbers down the block in his white milk truck.

"It's nostalgia", Borella said. "Many of my customers are older folks. And others are Baby Boomers. So, there's a nostalgia that hearkens back to a simpler time."

In the East Bay, Borella serves Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda. He also delivers to homes in Berkeley and El Sobrante.

Borella doesn't deliver every day. The day before he makes his rounds, he goes grocery shopping, picking up everything that his clients want delivered. He stocks his refrigerated milk truck the night before, and overnight, the truck is kept cool. He wakes up at 5 a.m. and gets behind the wheel by 6:30 or 7 a.m. Depending on the routes he's working on any given day, Borella is usually done by noon.

On other days, depending on his routes, he could end up working 12 to 14 hours a day.

Despite the occasional long hours, Borella will be the first to admit that it is a fun job. At the same time, he admits it is a business that can have significant overhead. It costs him about $1,000 a month to purchase diesel fuel for his 35-gallon gas tank and Borella uses about 55 gallons, or about $250, a week in gas.

"It's all about saving people a trip to the store," he said. "We do it for you."

For more information about Borella, visit www.bayareamilkman.com. He can be reached at (800) 464-6455 or via email at contactus@bayareamilkman.com.

Comments

Posted by Mom, a resident of Diablo
on Jun 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm

I have worked with prior Milkmen who became great men due to the nature of the delivery business which is full of trust and service!!


Posted by guynextdoor, a resident of Danville
on Jun 6, 2012 at 10:13 am

I worked on a milk truck to earn money for college the summer after I graduated from high school. It was a Divco. It had the throttle on the shift lever and a hand brake so the driver could stand up and drive and exit that side of the truck while I went out the other side. There were 2 routes that we served on alternate days. I had to walk 2 miles at 6:00am to meet the truck on one of the routes. One route finished at about noon and the other at 2:30pm. Before Divcos there were horses. The horses would learn the routes and would move on to the next stop as the driver made 2 deliveries and walked back to the truck. Old trade joke: a woman leans out of her second floor bedroom window clutching her robe at her throat, " oh milkman do you have the time"? "yes lady I have the time but who's going to hold my horse". Bakery trucks were common as well as were grocery delivery trucks. The customer would phone in her order to the market and the butcher shop and the delivery would pick up at all the stores and deliver her groceries to her kitchen table including putting the milk in the refridgerator.


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