Photo Essay: Special Delivery

Published: Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Special delivery
Michal the Milkman delivers a piece of the past.

by Grace Rauh


Michal drives down the road to make more morning deliveries. His truck is a familiar fixture on Palo Alto streets. Longtime customers say they love the old fashioned tradition of having milk delivered to their homes.

When Michal Grycz's pulls his white 1960 Ford delivery truck up to the tree-lined curb on Guinda Street the quiet road becomes a classic Norman Rockwell scene.

Michal the Milkman, as he is known to loyal clients and friends, hand delivers dairy goods throughout the Peninsula, breathing life into a nearly obsolete American tradition.

Every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., Michal loads up his truck and takes to the neighborhood streets delivering milk, butter, eggs, yogurt and an assortment of dairy products to homes across Silicon Valley.


Michal chats with a customer on his cell phone while making deliveries. The energetic milkman loves to talk with customers, friends, and anyone who will listen.

Michal leaves Clover Stornetta milk cartons in the hands of young children who scamper to their front door at his call, and when his client's are not at home he places orders on front porches, by back doors, under shady trees, and sometimes right in the refrigerator.


A customer leaves Michal the Milkman a friendly note. Michal delivers a laundry list of dairy products, with milk, butter, and eggs consistently ranked as his most popular products.

"Some people give you the keys to their house. You go in and put it in the fridge. They leave you love notes, little cookies, whatever," Michal said.

He knows his customers by name and they return his bright greetings with smiles and lively conversation.

Delivering dairy products door to door in the new millennium is no great money maker, and Michal scrapes by to keep his small company and four employees afloat. He serves 200 customers from Burlingame to Mountain View. Half are businesses and half Peninsula residents.

"Milk is a humble business," he said.


John Eaton of Palo Alto, a longtime customer and friend, chats with Michal. Michal has been in the milk business for 16 years. When he first started he had three customers and made his deliveries on a motorcycle with milk stuffed in a backpack.

The 36-year-old Palo Alto native vividly remembers helping Wally, his family's milkman, unload milk from his truck. When Michal heads out on his route today, he feels connected to Wally and the milkmen who have come before him dressed crisp white uniforms. In his casual T-shirt and shorts, Michal looks the modern milkman, but his daily routine differs little from milkmen of the past.


Michal's silhouette casts a shadow on the back of his delivery truck in the early morning light. This milkman starts loading his truck at 7 a.m. when he makes deliveries.

 

"I'm carrying on a tradition that has gone back generations. There are superficial differences but the essence is all right there; right there," he said.

Michal graduated from St. Francis High School in Mountain View and soon found a job developing film in the Eastman Kodak darkroom. When he didn't gel with the structured corporate environment, he decided to start his own business.

In 1987, an intrepid Michal visited the Peninsula Creamery, and left determined to become a milkman. The Creamery became his supplier and within a week customers began to call.


Michal loads his truck for a morning delivery. He employs four milkmen who help him deliver to his 200 customers from Burlingame to Mountain View.

For the first few months Michal tooled around on his Yamaha motorcycle, delivering to three customers out of a backpack, but he eventually graduated to an MG Midget and later picked up a 1960 van as his customer base grew. When the Creamery stopped manufacturing and distributing dairy products in the early '90s, Michal began working with Clover Stornetta.

Today he still operates on his old stomping ground -- leasing the Creamery's refrigerators and space at 800 High St. But that arrangement won't last forever.
"For six or seven years people have been trying to develop that land and I've been on borrowed time there," he said.

Michal hopes to stay in downtown Palo Alto when he is booted from the building, but it is unclear where he will go.

 


Michal takes a running leap from the curb into his delivery truck. The tireless 36-year-old loves his job and can't imagine a better way to spend his days.

 

After 16 years in the milk delivery business, the one thing Michal isn't worried about losing are his loyal customers - whom Michal consider his friends.

"People really open up and share their lives with you," he said. "I get up and go around and visit with my friends."

 

 

 


Michal can palm two milk cartons at the same time. He gets a real workout each day from loading his truck and delivering milk by hand to his customers.

 

His customers could easily add milk to their regular shopping lists and save money, but they remain committed to Michal.


Michal Grycz, a Palo Alto native and local milkman, surveys his inventory before loading up his 1960 Ford milk truck. Michal the Milkman, as he is know to friends and customers, has delivered milk for 16 years throughout Silicon Valley.

 

"Delivering milk to people's homes the way it used to be done is just a wonderful thing. And it is one less thing to carry when I go to the grocery store," said Hiromi Kelty, one of Michal's customers. When Michal pulls up, her 8- and 9 year-old daughters race to see him and try to hitch rides on the delivery truck.
"I can't think of a better way to have my milk in the refrigerator," Kelty said.


Michal greets Enya, the Kelty family dog with a big hug. Emy Kelty, 9, and Nina Kelty, 8, stand at the door with Hiromi Kelty to say hi to Michal and pick up their milk. The girls often try to catch rides on Michal's delivery truck.