Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time know that I have been a fan of, and have closely followed, the little specialty grocery store, Just Ripe. In January of 2011 I told you about their pre-opening fundraiser, their opening in May 2011, their half-birthday in December 2011, their reorganization, their near closure and their purchase by Century Harvest Farms. That covers a lot of ups and downs for a four-and-a-half-year-old-business. Now there is a new wrinkle.
Amber Busby has taken more control of the concept and will serve as general manager. She told me she felt that since the transfer of ownership last January, there hadn’t been a time of reflection to really examine what the store did best, what customers wanted and how to best deliver that. So, Just Ripe closed a few weeks ago and did just that.
To speak with Amber is to hear three words on automatic repeat: Service, Quality and Consistency. Acknowledging that these had not always be present in recent months, she and Emaleigh Sams who, with Amber, will be the only two full-time employees, are determined to see that these three things are present every day. They intend for Just Ripe to be a friendly, neighborhood market and want the community to feel it is theirs.
During their time down they have remodeled the store, shifting colors in the front to French Blue and a light, coordinating green with a “pop of salmon,” and removing several coolers to reduce noise. Family-styled seating has been added using the barn wood table that previously held food items. Tables will be set ahead of time. There is no dishwasher, so disposable plates are necessary, but the brand they use is compostable.
More seating has been added and the register has been moved back to the center of the store. The number of products has been reduced in order to give the store more focus. Messaging is important, of course, and they’ve got that one down: the windows now contain large lettering specifying what you’ll find inside: Coffee, Sandwiches, Housemade Biscuits, Deli Meats and Cheeses, Local Artisan Bread.
There will be a few other items, such as eggs and milk, but the other grocery items will generally be related to what you might taste on the menu. Like that jam on that biscuit? It’s probably available for sale. Enjoy that coffee? Buy a bag of the beans. Everything is designed to fit together in that manner, which means fresh produce and preserved and pickled produce will not be carried.
Once inside the door, the menu choices will be prominently displayed on a large chalk board. Local producers are announced on another board over the counter, “Cruze Farm Dairy, Three Bears Coffee, Century Harvest Farms (meats), Tickiwoo Farm (eggs), Welsummer Brand.” Other familiar local or regional providers will include Sweetwater Valley Farms (their cheese will be used in all the baked goods), Blackberry Farm, Sequatchie Cove (cheese), Looking Glass Creamery (cheese), Tellico Grains and Flourhead Bakery.
So, the culinary emphasis will be on foods prepared by hand on site for breakfast and lunch. The deli meat will be cut-to-order and other meats (ground beef, ground pork, breakfast sausage) will be available on request, though they will not be displayed. Charcuterie plates will also be available, as well as the biscuits, breakfast burritos, salads and other items you’ve come to expect. The sweet items will be limited to just a few choices in order for customers to know what to expect and to have a good experience. As much as possible, the food will be local and produced using organic methods.
Sandwiches will be available anytime the store is open so, for example, you could drop in early for a breakfast biscuit and take a sandwich to have for lunch later. She said for those of you who are pressed for time at lunch, you’ll also be able to call in a sandwich and they’ll have it ready for you when you arrive. Sandwich availability will be updated daily on the website . . . once the website is updated, which should be soon.
Amber said you should expect that you will be given attention and that employees will look for an opportunity to help with your selections. Desiring the tone to be very different than she’s sensed in previous months, she feels they can be more certain to deliver the products and service as intended with fewer employees. In addition to Amber and Emaleigh, there will be one other employee. She says they are proud to be a part of this business and want to do it in the very best manner possible.
The hours, at least initially, will be limited to 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Amber said this is consistent with the idea of keeping it direct and simple and doing what they do, well. She said the hours could expand later but, just as they are focusing on items that have the highest demand, they are also focusing on the hours that see the biggest influx of customers. They hope to grow the business from this base and if that means extending hours eventually, they will certainly do so.
There are plans for a monthly cooking show on WBIR (you can catch one today) and they hope to have other special events. Amber would like to bring back Daylight Nights – a monthly block party held for a while outside the building, and she plans to introduce a Just Ripe Loyalty program. Mostly she wants you to visit the store and expect those three things: service, quality and consistency.