(The Triangle Trend) — Long-time Apex resident, Lora Neel, owns ELK Local Foods. Located at 103 E. Chatham Street in downtown Apex, ELK is an homage, if you will, to her daughters, to her neighbors, to local vendors, and ultimately to the community.
In speaking with Neel, it’s easy to see how she arrived at this marriage of her passion for healthy and nutritious foods with her strong connection to the community. For Neel, ELK is about connecting family, community, and local foods.
The inspiration for that connection can be traced to the many weekend visits she, Ellie, and Kira (her daughters) used to make to local farmer’s markets. These weekly pilgrimages targeted smaller local farmer’s markets, like the Western Wake Farmers Market in Cary and the Apex Farmers Market because, and as Neel noted, these smaller ones reflect a bigger sense of community. She would revel in the discovery of local food treasures; healthy, delicious, and prepared by members of the community.
Though ELK is a relative newcomer to the downtown Apex scene—having just opened in November 2020—Neel, says they are doing well. And, while it might seem counterintuitive to open a small business like this in the midst of a pandemic, she credited some of her early success to the support of town leaders who have gone out of their way to promote and encourage supporting local merchants.
In this vein of going local, it’s important to note that ELK only sells products made in North Carolina. This gives local vendors another venue (i.e., beyond farmer’s markets) to showcase and sell their products. Customers know where the products come from (Neel calls it “cleaner food”). The result of this symbiosis: restoring and then growing confidence in the community at large.
Neel is a single mother and a veteran of corporate America, having worked for John Deere, a Fortune 500 company, for 20 years. The experience she gleaned while working at John Deere in both engineering and marketing roles served her well as she embarked on this new business venture. But ELK is a family affair, (Ellie + Lora + Kiera = ELK) with Neel’s daughters contributing prominently in essential business areas like the build-out of their social media presence and the establishment of branding.
Neel continues to fine-tune and build the impressive selection of local foods offered at ELK. Her vetting process is relatively simple. She asks the question: What will the customer want? Then, she considers if the new vendor will be able to keep up sustained production of their product (i.e., to avoid a one-and-done scenario for the consumer). She is looking for less processed foods and vendors who have humble goals (i.e., no plans to go mass production).
Neel continues to visit local farmer’s markets and uses the resources of the NC Specialty Foods Association to find other local vendors. Lastly, it is no surprise to learn that vendors have started reaching out to her for inclusion at the store. With success, especially in the local community, word of mouth is swift.
ELK Local Food’s mission is to sustain ourselves and the community. Lora Neel’s homage to the community—and her family—is a welcome addition to the eclectic mix of merchants in downtown Apex. Shopping local has rarely meant more.