Jaime Reyes bought Leslie’s Produce 7 years ago, his first foray into business ownership since moving to Baltimore from Mexico in 1997. Today, the Market has played an important part in his family’s life. His two sister-in-laws work with other vendors. Jaime’s chance to buy Leslie’s came about when his wife worked at Lexington and heard the produce stand was being sold.
The shop takes up two sides of a walkway. On one side, neat stacks of fresh vegetables shine beneath overhead lights. This is the only place in the market to get this variety of fresh produce, including many kinds of greens, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and other staples. Though he doesn’t serve many people from his home country, Jaime still stocks veggies like tomatillos, plantains, and yuca root, and offers me quick tips on how they are best prepared.
On the other side of the aisle is a tempting array of fresh fruits, sweet drinks, fruit salads, dozens of varieties of candies, and nuts in the shell. Though Leslie’s is known for its healthy fare, Jaime smiles as he tells me about his regular customers with a sweet tooth. Some come in for “5 to 10 bags of candy, every single day!”
It’s possible to take in the entire space at a glance, but like many Lexington Market vendors, Jaime specializes in organization and variety. The lettuce and onions you expect to see, but where else could you also find a perfectly ripe mango or fresh raw Brazil nuts, especially in such a small space?
Jaime is optimistic about Lexington Market’s plans for a new building. He has been here long enough to recall a time when drug sales and crime all but shuttered the market. Today, the market is safer and cleaner, but he looks forward to the day when an updated facility will bring in more customers.
Until then, Jaime will keep working hard to sustain and improve Leslie’s Produce. In May, he’s excited to shift to local farm sourcing for all possible produce. At the time of our interview, only the greens were grown nearby. In a couple of weeks, 75% or more of the vegetables will come from local growers. It’s more challenging than dealing with large-scale wholesalers, but it’s a shift that Jaime sees as important for his store and for his customers.
It’s this dedication to quality that has sealed Jaime’s success with Leslie’s. Since buying the shop, he and his wife have had two children, now 2 and 5 years old. As Jaime keeps finding new ways to offer more and better produce in a part of Baltimore where these foods are not often seen, his efforts should yield growing business during a transformative period in Lexington Market’s history.