Small Business Spotlight: Oak Grove MarketRick Watson (left) and Ralph Catalan (right) are part owners of Oak Grove Market and have worked at the store for 10 and 20 years, respectfully. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Greater Decatur, GA — As small businesses found themselves having to adapt throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Oak Grove Market altered its business model in an effort to support their customers and community during the pandemic.
The market has been open for about 40 years and is primarily a butcher shop, as well as a grocery and retail market. Oak Grove Market also serves breakfast and lunch. They additionally serve meat and sides around the holidays.
Before the pandemic, the market had tables, booths and red couch set up in the middle of the store for customers to dine in. The retail shelves were on the perimeter of the store. In one weekend, the five owners decided that the neighborhood needed a small grocery store to go to.
They took out all the tables and chairs, replaced them with more shelves and made big orders to fill the shelves with groceries and other supplies, part owner and operator Chaffraix Rowles said. The store does offer outdoor seating on its patio.
“In particular, that was when people couldn’t find paper towels, people couldn’t find bleach, and we were able to order it in different ways because of our smaller-scale distribution chain,” Rowles said. “We did that in a weekend, mainly because we didn’t feel like it was safe for people to eat in without masks, so the space was being wasted.”
It felt natural for the store to provide the neighborhood with a small place to shop. Oak Grove Market also wanted to provide a safe place for their elderly customers to find what they needed.
“We have a big elderly population who shops and has been with us for decades, so we felt responsible for them and wanting to give them what they need in a smaller environment that wasn’t so scary at the time,” Rowles said. “With that in mind, we just [flipped] and went totally retail.”
She said the market has a community feel to it that creates a unique space and is something that all the owners are proud of.
“We just all really appreciate the community aspect and love to put out great food, so I think we’re really proud of what we do,” Rowles said. “I grew up in this area. I live with my kids less than a mile away. It just feels like home to us. I grew up coming to the market long before any of the current partners were involved. I remember being in as a kid. It’s where my mom got all of our meat. It’s just always felt really comfortable and really special.”
The owners strive to maintain the community feel of the market and hope it remains a community center for shoppers and for families or kids to come and enjoy ice cream. Part-owner Rick Watson said the community aspect of the store has been the legacy of Oak Grove Market.
“To me, it’s first and foremost a community center,” Watson said. “We’ve had multiple generations now grow up coming here and getting ice cream and sodas and stuff. Then they move back to the neighborhood, have their own kids and send their own kids up here.”
The store continues to offer primarily retail products, but still serves breakfast and lunch as to-go meals. Oak Grove Market also offers a dinner program Monday through Friday. Meals have included a country boil, sesame and orange chicken, enchiladas, lamb gyros, chicken pot pie, pot roast, salmon and more. The dinner program menu changes frequently to keep it fresh.
Last winter, the market added outdoor seating, so customers can enjoy their meals at the market, but inside dining has not returned.
“We were also really, really strict with our masks,” Rowles said. “We didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. We really shifted to make comfort for the customer our No. 1 goal.”
She added that the owners are open to adding the tables and booths back in the future, but it hasn’t felt like the appropriate time to offer a dine-in option again.
As the store shifted its model, customers helped the owners make lists of products to order for supplies that they needed if Oak Grove Market was going to be the only place the customers shopped.
“They helped us put together the lists, we made some big orders, and it worked out well,” Rowles said.
As COVID-19 hit, the store was able to gain more customers as the big grocery stores experienced a meat shortage.
“We had things that other people didn’t have, and that’s just because of our smaller chain of distribution,” Rowles said. “We were able to maintain product that the big grocery stores didn’t have, so we actually picked up a lot of new customers who found us because of that.”
Oak Grove Market focuses on local products as much as possible, like nut butters from Georgia Grinders, pretzels from Noddy’s, and other Georgia producers.
“We like to support these smaller, local businesses and sell their products,” Rowles said. “For instance, with the Georgia Grinders, that’s our only peanut butter or almond butter. It’s just theirs. We don’t have a wide selection like a big grocery store of all different kinds of nut butters.”
The market also tries to get products that customers wouldn’t find at most other stores, like unique crackers, chips, jams and jellies, and sauces.
“I try to put together the retail space so that you can come in, you get your meat…you can get your produce and whatever sauce or starch or whatever else you need to put together a meal,” Rowles said. “My goal is to keep you from having to go to the big grocery store. You can put together an awesome meal just based on our little market.”
The store offers a variety of meat, such as steak, fresh seafood, pork butts, ribs, and chicken.
“The biggest seller here is our steaks,” Watson said. “We take a lot of pride in the quality of meat that we bring in and the way we butcher them. We put our meat up against anyone in town, you’re getting steakhouse-quality cuts that you can take home and grill yourself.”
The market’s prepared foods also keeps customers coming back, he added.
“The chicken salad has been a hit for as long as the place has been open,” Watson said. “It’s a fairly simple recipe, but it’s delicious. Then we have all our cheese dips and salsas. It’s cool, all the different stuff that you can get here. You can put together a party or put together a simple family meal. We do caterings. We kind of do it all.”
Oak Grove Market is located at 2757 Lavista Road in greater Decatur. The store is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The market is closed on Sunday.
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