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San Clemente Journal

The Big Red Barn, Feeding Our Pets and Our Souls

Sep 22, 2023 08:45AM ● By Donia Moore

The 75-year-old barn has been a feed store since 1996.

by Donia Moore

There is a big red barn located right off the freeway across from Doheny Beach. It looks so incongruous that you almost miss it; and if you’ve been living in the area for a while, a red farm barn is not what you expect to see in the middle of an iconic surfing hotspot. 
The barn is probably close to 75 years old, and owners Michelle and Chris Martin have it on good authority from longtime customers that it was originally an old army barracks building that was moved to this location many years ago.  

Michelle Martin actively manages three kids, two dogs, a cat, five chickens and the store.

 One of the most popular services the Food Barn offers is a do-it-yourself Paw wash. “For $15 you get a raised bathtub with hot water, towels, shampoo and conditioner, a professional blow dryer and ear wash including optional cologne spray,” says Michelle. 

This beloved landmark has been a feed store since 1996.  Although it carries many of the commercial dog and cat foods that most pet owners are accustomed to finding in other food stores, it also provides a market for other, lesser-known pet food brands. Rabbit pellets, timothy hay, straw, even horse tack and saddles, virtually anything you might need for a pet from the size of a tiny mouse to a large horse can be purchased or ordered there. 

Michelle got into the pet food business in the late ‘90s or early 2000s when she worked for a pet food distributor while attending Palomar Community College in San Marcos where she grew up. Chris was one of her customers. He called Michelle to place orders for the store multiple times a week. One day, after speaking with her for about six months about routine orders, he started calling to just say “Hi.” It took him all day, but he finally asked her out over the phone. They had never met in person but started dating at the end of 2000, and married in 2004. Michelle figures that she “married” the pet food market.

In 2011 she took over management of the store. Although they tried a few different managers along the way, the duo found that a more hands-on approach worked best. Today, Michelle actively manages three kids, two dogs, a cat, five chickens and the store. She really enjoys time with their customers, helping them to make positive changes in their pets’ health. 

 

Determining the best of the best for not only your dog and cat, puppies and kittens, but horses, chickens, goats, pigs, ducks, bunnies, guinea pigs, chinchillas, tortoises, wild birds, rodents, parrots, cockatiels, parakeets, canaries, finches, pigeons and more takes a lot of education in pet nutrition. Michelle emphasizes their customer service ethics and says they are happy to special order anything if they don't have it in the store. Shavings, Pine Pellets and Kaytee are just of few of the name brand pet supplies they carry. The Feed Barn also has raw bones, rawhide bones, bully sticks and other treats. Their huge selection of chews, leashes and collars, elk and deer antlers, and tons of toys guarantee that pet owners will always find something new. 

In addition to her experience in the pet food market, Michelle attended culinary school in 2001 and graduated with a degree in culinary arts. She also worked in the pastry kitchen of the Ritz Carlton for a few years. When the couple bought a fixer home in Nellie Gail, babies followed shortly so she became a stay-at-home mom. It was years later before she started working the store regularly.  

Owning a business like The Feed Barn is not without its funnier side. One day, Michelle answered the phone and a woman said she had trapped a bunny in her backyard. At the time, they sold rabbits, (but no longer sell them). Michelle told her to come in the following morning and ask for Chris and he would take the rabbit and sell it. It turned out to be a wild jackrabbit, and not a domestic bunny that had escaped from his home.  

Disappointments also happen in a business like the Feed Barn. A while ago, some magnificent birds that occupied the Feed Barn for many years disappeared. They were stolen, probably by someone looking to sell them as exotic pets. They have not yet been found but Michelle, Chris and their friends still keep an eye out whenever they hear of a possible sale of such birds, hoping that one day they will turn up again.

Michelle says she has learned a great deal about being in business in such an intensely personal field. She had to learn not to take things personally. “It's frustrating to know that I am well educated about dog food in particular. Yet people still come in, ask questions and then argue with me when I give them an answer. Or they'll pull out their phone right in front of me and pull up the exact item on Amazon and tell me they can get it cheaper there. Believe me, I get it. I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I understand that many times they have the same item for less money, but many people don't understand that when they spend an extra $2 on the dog toy at my store, they are helping to pay for many of our families’ necessities, including our employees’ salaries. There is no way I could be the mother that I want to be without the help of the wonderful employees that I have. We hire locals. Please shop locally so that we can continue to do so.”

The Feed Barn is located at 34192 Doheny Park Road, Capistrano Beach, (949)248-8700.

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