"The reaction is always the same," Miller said. "People say, 'Really? There’s still a milkman? Like in the old days?' Many people remember it from when they were kids, and they have a hard time believing it still exists."
Miller owns a Los Angeles - based delivery service that contracts with Alta Dena, one of the largest dairies in Southern California. Each week, Miller drives his refrigerated truck to homes along routes in Los Angeles including South Bay, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Torrance, West Los Angeles, Bel Air, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. He arrives in the wee morning hours and dashes up to the front door, leaving behind cartons of farm-fresh milk, cheese, eggs, bread, butter and more.
Relying largely on word-of-mouth, Miller picks up new residential and business clients every month, and he's planning to expand home-delivery routes into other cities soon.
The food world's rallying cry of recent years — "eat local, eat organic" — is lending new life to local dairies such California based Alta Dena, which processes its own milk, including a line of organic dairy products. Using local advertising, word-of-mouth or old-fashioned door-to-door sales, these dairies spread the word that home delivery is not a thing of the past.
Freshness is their calling card: The milk is delivered to your home in as little as 48 hours after milking, says Wes. The dairy's business model eschews buying placement on supermarket shelves and instead focuses on home delivery and independently owned markets. In all, Alta Dena delivers milk and dairy products to more than 7,500 homes in the Southland.
"I like the idea that we are supporting a local business, and a local dairy," said Jason Kimes, who has been on one of Miller’s routes for a decade now. "We love milk, and I just got tired of schlepping milk around." But he said he was really sold on the taste. "I know this sounds crazy but we actually did a blind taste test with supermarket milk and the fresh milk. You can really taste a difference."
Wes has been a Home Delivery driver for 20 years as well as his father who represented Alta Dena for over 44 years. The home delivery tradition continues today throughout Southern California as thousands of customers still enjoy receiving Alta Dena products on their doorsteps in the early hours of the morning!
The back of Miller’s refrigerated truck is stacked high with milk crates filled with products that reflect the demands of picky customers who are used to getting what they want when they want it. Between milk, soy milk and Lactaid, there are 16 varieties to choose from. There's also half-and-half, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, eggs, cheeses, and fresh-squeezed juices from other sources.
And if there's something else that his customers want, Miller says, he'll get it.
"In this day and age, you have to have variety to stay in business," he explains with a shrug.
To most Americans, the milkman is a symbol of simpler times, when dairy farms were commonplace and markets weren't. In the 1940s and '50s, many American families received home delivery of milk and other daily necessities, said Jim Carroll, president of the Massachusetts-based International Home Delivery Assn.
In those days, double-income families were a rarity and the milkman was a common part of the landscape: The milk truck could make its rounds all day long, because Mom was sure to be home.
Supermarkets and corner convenience stores changed all that when they began cropping up in the 1960s. They cut into the milkman's business in part by slashing milk prices to get customers in the door.
But the milkman never really went away. He hung on thanks to customers who lived too far from a supermarket, had kids who went through milk like water or were reaching their twilight years and no longer wanted to lug around heavy containers. In the Northeast, Carroll said, the inclement weather is a boon for the milk delivery business.
There are some key changes. Gone are the nostalgic glass milk bottles — they're too heavy, too dangerous and too costly. And today's milkman (and he's almost always a man) doesn't wear a uniform suit, squeaky black shoes and a spiffy cap — he's more than likely to wear shorts, running shoes and a ball cap.
Not that you're likely to catch a glimpse.
Miller pulls into Alta Dena’s Los Angeles loading dock around 2:00 AM, stocks up his truck and is soon on his way. The nocturnal delivery enables Wes to beat traffic but also allows the milk to be delivered — and brought inside — before everyone heads off to work for the day.
Since deliveries happen so early in the mornings, when the air temperature is still cool here in Southern California, refrigeration is not always a necessity: Most deliveries are simply placed on the front porch right outside the entryway, or on a nearby chair, because early-bird customers plan to scoop them up and bring them inside shortly after delivery. Other customers, those who like to sleep in — leave out a cooler, or a traditional milk box that keeps their dairy treats cool. And some customers appreciate Wes’ full customer service of personally stocking the refrigerator in their home.
Here's how it works for Miller’s customers: They sign up for regular delivery — it can be as frequent as twice a week, or once every other week — online at http://www.milkhomedelivery.com . They also get an order form of available goodies. If they want something special, they leave the order form out by the door. Customers are billed monthly and pay by check, and there's no extra charge for delivery
On a recent weekday morning, Wes pulled his refrigerated truck into a leafy cul de sac in Brentwood — "the best part of being a milkman is that you can park on the wrong side of the street and no one cares," he joked — and dashed up to the front porch with two half-gallons of milk. Between the darkness — it was not quite 6 a.m. — and the lack of a porch light, Miller had to squint to read the order form that had been left out: "Cottage cheese, butter and yogurt."
He headed back to the truck and did a little "shopping" in the back, then returned to the front porch, placing all the goods inside a red cooler left out for this purpose.
By the time most of his customers stumbled onto the front porch, still groggy, to find their milk and fresh eggs, Miller would be long gone.