By LEAH STRATMANN
Some 60 people assembled last week at the Red Bay Community Center to hear a proposal by Destin area restaurateur and part time Red Bay resident Charles Morgan lay out his plans to revitalize a small area grocery store, which has been closed for several months, into something altogether new.
“I’m not really a salesman, but now I’m going to try and sell you on something,” Morgan began. He went on to say there was a great deal of history in this area, but not many gathering places for area residents. “That store was important to me. All over the south there are little stores that are shuttered.”
Morgan then detailed a plan for 49 area residents to invest in the Red Bay Grocery, a combination small grocery and restaurant.
“I am not a real likely businessman, but I am a businessman. I’ve had partners in almost everything I’ve done and I’m looking for 49 partners. When you say that to an accountant or lawyer, they just get nauseated,” he joked, “but the main point is to have people invest who want to be investors. Businesses that do not make money are not any fun and I think we can make money and have fun with this.” Morgan said each investor would own one share and be given an opportunity to help in whatever way possible, either by helping hammer nails during the renovation or working the register one day a week or do nothing at all.
Although Morgan may not think of himself as much of a salesman, all 49 available shares were sold within 48 hours.
“Red Bay is not too far from just being a blip on the road and I want to change that,” Morgan said. “This area is rich in history and I want to capture some of those old stories and histories on video, and get those country recipes while I’m at it. People will have an available cottage industry for their extra tomatoes. Everyone can take part and make some money,” he said.
“Right now SR-81 is just a road where folks from Atlanta speed to Seaside. Maybe we can get some of their money along the way, while creating some employment as well.” Each investor will receive a 10-percent discount in the restaurant and store, but not on the gasoline, which will be sold outside.
“By pulling together we can create something different. This is not some hippie co-op; this venture is about making money. I will be responsible for any additional money needed and any investor can back out with a full refund after a year. We won’t keep coming back to you for more money,” he promised. Morgan said he needed to retain control so he wouldn’t have to have a full partner meeting to discuss the type of napkins to use.
“We will serve a light breakfast and a daily blue plate special. The store and restaurant will be clean, open on time every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we will stock those essentials the community needs so they won’t have to drive a long distance to get a roll of paper towels,” he said.
“This concept has so many levels it has created a new interest in me. I’ve wanted to do this for years. We can make this a nicer place to live. Travelers will sit in the restaurant and think this would be a nice place to live after being surrounded by nice authentic people. Sometimes it takes an outsider to tell you what you’ve got and I’m here to tell you got something special here,” Morgan emphasized.
Long time Red Bay resident Ouida Miller said, “It doesn’t seem like a community if you don’t have a store.” Miller is looking forward to having a place to go for an afternoon cup of coffee and a place to meet and play cards.
“We don’t want to be in a real big hurry for this to take off. We want people to talk about it when they go to the beauty parlor, church and whatever they do in life.” The store will also be capitalizing on the fast growing “locovore” movement in which people seek to eat those goods grown within short distances from home. What is being touted as the next frontier is actually a return to yesteryear.
February 1 is the target date for the opening of Red Bay Grocery. Morgan promised reasonable prices for everything.
“We will have better food up here than they get along the coast, although there will be nothing hokey about it. This won’t be a Cracker Barrel with misspelled signs and a lot of junk, just good food at reasonable prices and when someone asks ‘who owns this,’ everyone in there can say ‘we do.’”