Hudson Milk Company: The Rubino Family Shrub Oak

Community Capital Success Story - Hudson Milk CompanyThe Hudson Milk Company is a modern take on old-fashioned dairy delivery. Thomas and Therese Rubino began second careers as milkman, delivering icy, fresh unadulterated milk in old-school glass bottles dropped off (and once empty, picked up) weekly. A butcher’s son who grew up in Manhattan with his mother buying family groceries in the cheese and fruit shops on the block when where they lived was a neighborhood community and not an acronym (i.e. Soho, Nolita), Thomas Sr. wanted to go back to running a business where his customers know him by name. “And besides, who knows where that stuff in the cartons comes from?”

It’s family run, with small business loans from Community Capital NY making it possible for farm fresh milk to chill out in a giant walk-in cooler on the Rubino’s Shrub Oak property, and for Thomas Jr., son-in-law Mike Morgan, along with another employee to join the company as the next generation of milk men. The Rubinos make sure their country bovines are grass fed and free of scary pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Milk comes from the Battenkill Valley Creamery, a family-owned dairy farm near Saratoga that’s been producing what’s arguably the area’s freshest, best and most wholesome milk for over 110 years, awarded the Best in State from Cornell’s School of Agriculture. The whole thing is just so Leave it to Beaver, it makes you want to iron something.

In addition to offering skim, 1 percent, whole (cream on top) and chocolate varieties, the Rubinos have all natural eggs, butter, cheese and yogurt. Craving Burrata? The Hudson Milk Company’s all over the new Manhattan restaurant must have, with the fresh mozzarella balls filled with cream made by the Maplebrook dairy of Vermont, who also provide the Rubinos with feta and ricotta. English breakfast? They’re on it, with eggs from free range chickens that have the run of the John Fazio’s Ulster County farm and a natural diet (better even than organic, where chickens have to be penned to eat only organic grain), hickory-smoked bacon and butter made by the Amish Troyer family of Ohio, coming the farthest of the Rubino’s farm-to-table fare “simply because of the taste.” Greek yogurt? Angus beef? From Willow Marsh in Bolston Spa, NY and Wallbridge Farm in Millbrook, NY, respectively. “They’re local and they’re all artisans,” says Thomas Sr. The beauty of buying things like the Byrne Dairy’s orange juice bottled in Syracuse isn’t just the curb side collection or taste, it’s that the Rubinos pay the farmers a fair market price. Think of it like buying a shirt made by a tailor earning a living wage rather than one made in an Asian sweatshop by workers of questionable age in poor conditions. It’s a better buy, and a purchase that helps keep the Hudson Valley’s agricultural community crowing. And, this spring, look for produce boxes of seasonal fruit and vegetables from upstate, and hydroponic lettuce raised by a nonprofit farm employing the developmentally disabled.

For just a $5 charge anywhere in Westchester or Fairfield counties, they’re determined to deliver in time for morning coffee (farm call:4 a.m.). Deliveries are weekly or bi-weekly, with a $15 minimum order. It’s as easy as deciding just how wholesome you want your week to be, and placing the order accordingly. Use their cool cooler or yours. You’ll be drinking the best milk of your life—at least until the cows come home.

The Hudson Milk Company, 914.245.0409, www.hudsonmilk.com

How did you get into such an udderly delicious business?
My wife and I always worked together and were looking for something a little less stressful. We saw an add from an old milkman who was retiring up the line and bought his truck.

How did get your business off the ground?
We began with one truck; we now have three. You have to credit Crescent Ridge of Boston, the Oberweiss Dairy of Chicago and Monroe from Providence, Rhode Island. The New England dairy farmers never deviated. These old dairies never went away. They made home delivery fashionable again through their perseverance. Everything we sell can be sourced back to the farmers, dairies, and creameries who make it. These are farmers making a difference, not big conglomerates. Milk from a feed lot dairy is detrimental. You know how this cheese is made, that the milk comes from grass fed cows grazing on sustainable fields free of growth hormones and pesticides. They’re not organic, but they’re artisans using sustainable methods. The small farmer, often running a family business that’s been going for more than a century, is trying to make a difference by providing healthier food. As the trend to buying local increased, we added trucks and drivers. We focus primarily on Hudson Valley farmers. Our prices are comparable to a Mrs. Green’s. Northeast dairies were decimated by the handicap of selling their milk through coops, which keep prices down. Farmers couldn’t afford to keep their farms and sold the land to developers. We pay the dairy directly, a fair market price for his milk. It keeps him in business, and allows the rest of us to have milk that tastes the way it used to.

How did your business evolve?
Two loans from Community Capital made it possible for us install the large, walk-in cooler and hire my son and son-in-law full time. We’ve added inventory, with chicken and beef, orange juice, cream cheese. yogurt and this spring, 18 weeks of fresh produce to easily feed a family of four for $900. It’s a return to eating seasonally. And you get to try vegetables like chard and turnips again, getting bunches of fresh basil, tomatoes, strawberries, corn in season.

In hindsight you wish you knew?
That we didn’t have to do it all. It wasn’t until I hurt my back and was forced to have surgery that we hired a driver. The hours were very difficult to get used to. We’d leave home at one in the morning and drive through snow storms to make deliveries on time. We were so consumed with getting out every day to deliver, that it wasn’t until I had to stay in the office that I had the time to properly promote and market the business—and that’s what actually enabled us to grow the business.

Your best advice?
Dilligence. That’s what it takes to run your own business.

What’s next?
Thomas Jr: redesigning the website to enable customers to log in and place orders. Point of sale will be a lot easier. We can promote specials, and credit cards will be accepted through the site. It will make cash flow a lot healthier.

Thomas Sr: Thomas Jr is going to take the business to the next level.

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