By LEAH STRATMANN
Even before the Red Bay Grocery opened just shy of two years ago, it was an unusual operation in that area residents had been permitted to buy shares in the store. Principal owner Charles Morgan had offered 49 people an opportunity to become shareholders at $1,000 each with the guarantee they could get a full refund after a year if they chose.
At the one-year anniversary meeting of shareholders, even though there were no profits to share, only one person decided to pull out of the fledgling operation.
“The response to the store has been overwhelming in light of the size of the operation. I’ve been in business for a long time and in terms of volume of business, it is the smallest thing I’m involved in, but the response has been outsized in relation to the size of this project. People smile when the come into the store and smile when they leave. You look for profits and profits will come, but the smiles let you know you are on the right track,” Morgan said.
Manager Katie Barrineau, who has been steering the grocery/restaurant through the many changes that have occurred, says what began as primarily a corner grocery and small restaurant serving breakfast and lunch has evolved into the premiere restaurant in Red Bay because it is the only restaurant in Red Bay and the good food, good prices and excellent service have not gone unnoticed by people from all over the county.
“This is place where the community has come to be together. We get lots of bicycle clubs, motorcycle clubs and car clubs that come up here and before we were here, I don’t think they knew where Red Bay was,” Barrineau said.
Since the opening, many things have changed. The store sells one of the largest varieties of local honey anywhere and over the summer partnered with Luke Langford and his Cypress Cattle Company to provide fresh local produce in the store.
“There has been both good and bad luck with the fresh vegetables because people around here are used to growing their own produce. You can buy either a small amount or a large amount and all of the produce from Luke is gorgeous,” Barrineau enthused.
“We have figured out in two years what we are good at. We sell a lot of baked goods, peanut brittle, and barbecue to go. Everything is made from scratch. The banana pudding is very popular and we often sell out of the cakes. The pies sell fast. We make several sweet potato pies a week, based on a recipe from one of our shareholders and we sell out fast,” Barrineau noted.
One of those shareholders providing recipes is long time Red Bay resident Ouida Miller, who lives jut two doors down from the store and is a frequent diner. Miller is very enthusiastic about the effect the store has had on the small Red Bay community. “The men have a place to meet each morning to have breakfast or coffee, cuss the politicians, discuss the world situation, catch up on gossip, and most importantly to get the hunting and fishing news. The ladies have a place to meet and not have to cook a meal. The store has just been wonderful for the area,” Miller concluded.
Initially the restaurant was open for breakfast and lunch and only carryout items were available after 2 p.m. and except for Thursday through Saturday evenings that is still the case, however the store hit upon a couple of winning combinations which brings diners in from all over three nights a week.
Trey Nick of Nick’s restaurant in Basin Bayou supplies the shrimp for all you eat shrimp on Thursday. “These are big nights for the store,” Barrineau says, “with many repeat customers, many of them coming from the southern end of the county to sample the cuisine.” All you can eat ribs are the featured menu item on Saturday nights.
Locals have supplied the recipes for the wide array of jams and jellies carrying the Red Bay Grocery label. “Hillshire Orchards in Georgia bottles our jams and jellies. Most of the jams and jellies are from local recipes and some of it is from recipes Hillshire has collected from small towns in the area,” Barrineau said.
Barrineau noted the cooking staff has remained constant since the beginning providing for continuity and quality of the cooking and food. “We have been blessed with a good staff and they have stuck with us through all the changes. We are very lucky in that regard,” she said.
The store is involved with things that interest the community, sponsoring fishing and hunting tournaments as well as providing some proceeds for charity through their “dining for dogs” program. The store has three different kinds of hot dogs for sale with a percentage of the profits benefiting Alaqua Animal Refuge.
“As a business model, this store is so different. I’ve never even seen a business like this. I’ve heard it takes at least three years for a new business to turn a profit and that has changed over the years. If a McDonald’s opens in the area, there is no learning curve. Everybody knows what McDonald’s is about and the first week can potentially be profitable. The idea of a business maturing over the first few years doesn’t apply anymore. We have built a business through word of mouth that will take three years to mature, but it will get there,” Morgan promised. “The store is involved in the community whether someone has had a baby or lost a loved one.”
Leah Stratmann may be reached via email@example.com