Ready-to-eat meals startup Thistle plans to open 250-worker plant in Solano County

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The latest addition to Solano County’s growing cluster of food, beverage and pharmaceutical producers is Thistle, a startup ultrahealthful-meal delivery service that plans to hire hundreds of employees in the North Bay.

The San Francisco-based company inked a lease for 79,000 square feet initially in a light-industrial building at 771 Eubanks Drive in Vacaville. Over the next six months, Thistle plans to set up operations with over 250 employees initially to produce, package and distribute meals to customers in the Golden State as well as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.

The husband and wife team of Ashwin Cheriyan and Shiri Avnery spouted Thistle in 2014 as a maker of ready-to-eat meals that emphasize a primarily plant-based, gluten- and dairy-free, and locally sourced menu of main dishes, juices and snacks. The company has rapidly expanded in the past three years and needed a larger, additional production facility, according to the Solano County Economic Development Corporation.

“Thistle made the decision to locate to Vacaville over other locations in California and Nevada for several reasons: it is still within the greater Bay Area and close to their corporate HQ in San Francisco as well as other operations in the East Bay; the facility allows easy access to their major markets by proximity and transportation links; the affordability both for employees and the business was important...” the trade group said in an announcement May 3.

As the Business Journal has reported on previous meal-delivery ventures that have started in or expanded to the North Bay over the past few years, that market is highly competitive, where small entrants struggle to scale and deliver, and large players risk overexpanding.

A recent example is Blue Apron, one of the largest meal-kit-to-your-door startups in a $1.5 billion a year annual U.S. market. It planned to open last year a food-preparation and fulfillment center in a 430,000-square-foot distribution warehouse that had just been completed in Fairfield. But the company in late 2017 amid job cuts and belt-tightening decided to sublease all the space, after nearly $35 million in build-to-suit financing and $38.5 million in lease commitments through 2028.

Vacaville plans to hold a job fair for potential Thistle employees.

The market for commercial real estate in Solano and Napa counties continued to tighten in the first quarter, according to Colliers International. The combined industrial vacancy rate was 4.0%, down from 5.2% in the fourth quarter and 6.9% a year before.

In Solano and Napa counties, there were 742,572 square feet of industrial buildings under construction, 786,466 square feet of buildings permit-ready, 485,219 square feet with planning entitlements, and 3,581,157 square feet planned, according to Colliers.

“The near- and long-term outlook for the region is very positive as high demand for premium wine continues to be Napa’s competitive advantage. Solano County’s mix of affordability, available land, good labor, and a great location near the Port of Oakland, and between the major markets of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento will continue to make this county attractive for users and investors alike,” said Phil Garrett, executive managing director of Colliers’ Fairfield office.

Brokering Thistle’s Vacaville lease were Ryan Davidson of Lee & Associates and Brooks Pedder of Cushman & Wakefield. Vacaville, Pacific Gas & Electric and the Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development also were involved in making the expansion happen, the Solano business group said.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Contact him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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