Oscar Avila lives with a chronic addiction—to coconuts. They remind him of the tropical beaches of his homeland of Michoacán, Mexico. So when he sees the tall palm trees decorating Dolores Park, he feels something’s missing. Where are all the coconuts?
The 25-year-old decided last week to answer that question: at 2770 Mission St., squeezed between a bank and a dollar store, he opened a coconut-only store, Organic Cocos. There, for $2.50 each, he sells an average of 180 cellophane-wrapped coconuts a day. When temperatures jumped to 90 degrees on Saturday, he sold 500.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen this,” Trevor Duffy, a Mission resident, said in Portuguese on Monday evening as he and other lovers of the sweet milky liquid gathered in front of two massive piles of Thai young coconuts.
“I crave drinking coconut water. In Brazil, they climb up the tree, get a coconut and then cut it open and drink it, naturally. It cleans out my lungs because I smoke a lot.”
Duffy, whose father is Brazilian, said he had been on his way to buy a dollar ice cream when the coconuts surprised him and he quickly forgot all about the ice cream.
“It’s rare that there’s a coconut business,” said Marta Hernandez, an older woman who lives in the Mission said in Spanish. “In my country, El Salvador, there’s a place where you can find every kind of coconut.”
Her friend, Marta Corales, from Nicaragua, chimed in. “Coconut water has cleansing properties. It cleans out the stomach and the coconut meat detoxifies,” she said. “You find coconuts on all the coasts, so it unites people from those areas.”
Coconut meat is low in cholesterol and sodium, a good source of manganese, but high in saturated fat, according to nutritiondata.com. The liquid has a list of vitamins, but is also high in sodium.
But talk of vitamin content was very far away from Organic Cocos this week.
“I always drank this in the Phillipines. It’s good for my hips,” said Linda Guebarra, holding two plastic bags with a coconut in each. “I don’t drink soda—oh, no! This is good. I drank them Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and today.”
Avila advertises his coconuts as organic, but the whole issue of organic and coconuts quickly becomes contentious.
Avila said that no matter whether his coconuts, imported by Best Oriental Produce, are certified organic, coconuts are generally all organic. A representative from the importer said it does not sell organic products, but coconuts are naturally organic so they don’t require certification.
Honor Schauland, a representative from Organic Consumers Association disagreed. “There are coconut farms that use chemicals and pesticides to control pests such as the India rhinoceros beetle,” she said.
But coconuts usually don’t require as much spraying or fertilizers as other trees, said Alex Karp, a farmer who grows coconuts for Hawaii-based Island Harvest Organics. The Thai young coconuts are probably fine, he said, but the problem lies in the fumigation process that occurs when fruits are imported into this country.
Back at his store, no one seems worried about the fine distinctions.
“Some people say I’m crazy for selling only coconuts,” said Avila, laughing. But, he said, with the profits he’s made from the coconuts since day one, he wishes he’d thought of opening a long time ago, when he was a restaurant worker or a driver.
The former dollar-only storefront, which rented for $4,000 a month last year, now rents for $3,500, according to Avila. It had been vacant for months until last week.
Avila said that when the city grants the permits in the next two months, Organic Cocos will expand to include “everything that has to do with coconuts”— coconut cakes, cream pies, cookies, the list goes on.
“On the coast of Mexico, we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with coconuts. For us, it’s like our bread and butter,” he said. Avila says the store will also be an organic coffee shop.
Avila now gets his coconuts from Thailand, but in two weeks, he will begin shipping green coconuts from big coconut farms in Michoacán—a rare thing, he explained. Most young coconuts you find here come from Thailand.
His brother, who works at a non-profit in Michoacán that helps create work for farmers, is making the connections. Shipping them from Mexico, according to Avila, will take one week instead of the two it currently takes to ship them from Thailand.
The Mexican coconuts, he said will have a more traditional look. The Thai coconuts can look odd to some.
“A lot of people think they’re cheese,” said Javier Avila, Oscar’s cousin, who drives from San Jose to help out. He says this is because Thai young coconuts look different than the huge, green coconuts consumed in Latin America.
To lure skeptics and regulars, next week Avila will kick off with an offer: buy two coconuts and get one free.