Rachel Garcia, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, had always been aware of the impact of waste on our planet but never knew that she would be one of the ones to lead the charge to change sustainability in NJ. Intrigued by the way other countries utilized reusable containers at the markets instead of wasting single-use ones, Rachel wanted to bring the idea of package-free shopping to her community by sourcing products from some of the best suppliers she could find. So in February 2020, she launched a small shop of bulk pantry staples in a South Orange cooperative, never realizing how essential her business would be in the months to come during the pandemic shutdown. Dry Goods Refillery has since grown out of that space into a bigger one in Montclair, where it’s New Jersey’s first dedicated plastic and package-free, one-stop-shop grocery that’s spurred a refill revolution—decreasing the daily impact on the environment without sacrificing quality ingredients. We chatted with this South Orange mom of two young sons to discover how she found success launching during the pandemic, what she teaches her kids about sustainability, and the Morris County spots high on her family’s list for the best hiking.
Please share a bit about your family and background. My husband, Daniel Garcia, and I have been married for 11 years and have two boys, Tyler, 8, and Ellis, 6. I was born and raised in Morristown, but I have lived in different places like New York City, Chicago, and even Buenos Aires in Argentina. We settled in South Orange and are raising our family here because we get all the benefits of big city life, but the sense of community here is exceptional. It’s a diverse town and a reflection of the world, which I’d like to see more of, and there’s strong support for small businesses.
Have you always wanted to have your own business? At a young age, I saw the entrepreneurial spirit of my family—my father is a surgical ophthalmologist, and my mother has been running his business—so the behind-the-scenes of running your own business had always excited me. After graduating from NYU, I entered the Lord and Taylor Executive Training Buying Program and became a buyer of contemporary dresses when I was only 25. I soon moved to Chicago and worked for smaller fashion startups and found that I loved working in a way where I could move the lever and see something grow and expand. Being a buyer is very entrepreneurial in spirit and responsibility because you’re responsible for a category and making it successful. My career motivated me more to find and do my own thing.
You launched five weeks before the global pandemic hit hard. Being such a new business, how were you able to survive it? We launched as a smaller operation at SOMA, a cooperative space in Maplewood/South Orange—it was an opportunity to test the concept and need with pantry staples, and I found it was the perfect entry point into entrepreneurship. It was intense, but we succeeded in such a crazy time because the pandemic showcased how different our supply chain is, compared to traditional grocery stores, which were empty very quickly because of their supply chain issues. We work with a restaurant supply chain, and since restaurants were suffering and couldn’t seat people, their suppliers had more than enough of what we were selling. And because we were carrying things people couldn’t get at their usual shops, a lot of people in the community found out about us, and we were swamped. The success allowed us to invest in a bigger location in Montclair and expand from just pantry staples to a full-fledged grocery store.
What do you hope your children learn from seeing you run your business? Children only know what they’re taught and what they experience. I want them to see the world differently and interact with things differently. For example, we went out to dinner the other night, and I brought a Tupperware to take our leftovers home instead of a plastic container from the restaurant. Also, if they use a plastic fork, I want them to see that it’s not really disposable and they should take it home, wash it and use it again and again. I want this thinking to be second nature to them and jarring for them when things aren’t done this way.
What are the best and most challenging things about being an NJMOMpreneur? Having my own business gives me more flexibility in my schedule, even though I work twice as hard. It’s nice to have the flexibility to close a certain day, attend a specific event, or take a trip. Of course, the most challenging thing about it is that no matter what your plans are, sometimes the business has to grab your attention, and no matter what you’d planned, you need to be there, the same way a child with an emergency needs you.
How do you unwind after a particularly stressful day? The best place for me to unwind is at home, snuggled on the couch with my husband. We’ll have a glass of wine or build a fire to relax. Family is everything to me, so being with my husband and the kids is the best reset.
What is Dry Goods Refillery’s best-seller, and what’s your favorite? We sell a lot of olive oil, coffee beans, and laundry detergent, which are very easy to refill. As far as having a personal favorite, the truth is that if I don’t love it, I don’t sell it. But if I have to pick one thing, it’s this incredible nut-free granola from Hungry Bird. My kid has a peanut allergy, and this is so delicious and gives me such peace of mind.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? I’m very into female empowerment and sustainability, and with that being said, I love Sustainable Haus Mercantile, a zero waste, refill, and home goods shop. The owner, Jeanette, is the OG of sustainability. Another that I can’t live without is Java’s Compost, a business that makes it simple for customers to compost in a way that best fits their particular needs and lifestyle. I use them personally and commercially at the store, and they take every scrap and compostable wrapper. Another business I’m crazy about is DIP, which has salon-quality, great shampoo, and conditioner bars, so it is plastic-free hair care.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. Every year we spend a few nights in Cape May and love the “simpler” existence we find there. We bike and get ice cream, and spend time at the beach. Hiking is also very high on our list, and we’ll usually head to the Watchung Reservation or Jockey Hollow trails in Morristown.
What’s your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? Having a business is like being a parent—you can’t just clock in and go home. Going into it, know that you’ll have days where you feel like you’re on top of it all and days where you feel like you’re failing, but if you have a passion and love for what you’re doing it’s totally worth it!