Unique experiences, excellent care continue to set Roy Pope Grocery apart from competition
Roy Pope Grocery has been a fixture in the Fort Worth, Texas, neighborhood of Westover Hills since 1943, when the business’ namesake and native son returned from service during World War II to open the store.
In the spring of 2020, the current owners decided to sell to a Fort Worth partnership of longtime restaurateur and chef Lou Lambert, real estate broker Rodger Chieffalo, developer-builder Mark Harris and Lambert protégé Chris Reale.
Reale serves as the owner-operator of Roy Pope Grocery, which he describes as the “oldest gourmet grocery in Fort Worth.” The new owners renovated the store, along with Paris Coffee Shop, which they also purchased at the same time.
Reale said he was a little nervous about taking over and remodeling the store, which is a landmark in the affluent northeast Fort Worth neighborhood. The response from customers has been heartening.
“Everyone is so gracious and happy that someone took it over and kept it alive. It’s a legacy in Fort Worth, and if we didn’t take it over, it would have ended up being an apartment complex or a duplex or something. I think it was really important that [they] saw a group of guys take over and keep Roy Pope alive.”
Reale said he always had dreamed of being a chef and started in the restaurant business at age 17. He met Lambert and began working at one of his restaurants. “Fast forward 16 years later and we’re business partners.”
Coming from a restaurant and hospitality background, Reale said diving into the grocery business “was definitely a stretch for me.” As restaurants are high stress and fast paced, “I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. But once you get in, you start realizing all the challenges. Roy Pope, to me, is like seven businesses in one because of all the different departments that we have.”
Although it’s not a large space – 7,500 square feet – a lot is packed into the store: center store grocery, butcher, gourmet coffee and wine bars, hot deli and a small café.
“I always use the word ‘grocer-ant’ because it’s not just a grocery, it’s all those other things put together. 44And that’s what I really added to Roy Pope was that hospitality.”
Reale said he wanted to “activate that grocery store,” which now offers indoor and outdoor seating. “You walk in and it’s very inviting. If you want to get a glass of wine or a beer and enjoy lunch there you can, but then you can also do all your shopping.”
Reale said being an independent grocer is difficult. “We’re a very, very small guy. We don’t have our own distribution, and we get absolutely shafted with supply chain.” The store can’t compete with the larger chain grocers as far as product selection and price, but it counters with customer service.
“Rather than having 19 different breads, we’ve got five or six,” he said. “We’ve shrunk everything down and consolidated it.
“But what we’ll do versus any other stores is, when you walk in, we’re going to treat you like family. We’re going to say ‘hi,’ we’re going to check on you, we’re going to ask you if there’s any recipes that you’d like us to offer up. We’re there to help people out.”
Reale has a lot of knowledge from the restaurant industry and culinary world that he wants to share with his customers. “That’s where we hang our hat – service. We’ll bend over backward.”
For example, if the store is out of tostadas, Reale will go into the kitchen and make them. He will bring a customer into the kitchen with him and give them “a totally unique experience” that they can’t get anywhere else.
Reale recalled how once a customer asked for chili oil. The store didn’t offer it, but he took the lady into the kitchen where he had a variety of dried chilis. They created the chili oil together, and “she just had a blast, I had a blast. I sold her chili oil afterward. She felt like she was taken care of, and she got a unique experience. That’s where we are competitive, is the service…I feel like we blow everybody out of the water.”
The Roy Pope Grocery business model is on building relationships, not just on volume of sales. “Obviously, we want to be successful, but we’re focused on service and relationships,” he said.
The relationship with customers was evident during a February ice storm in Fort Worth that lasted four or five days. Roy Pope was one of the few grocery stores open.
“Texas is, historically, horrible about dealing with any kind of ice or snow,” Reale said. “Our whole world shuts down. With us being tucked in that neighborhood, if I can get my truck there, we’re going to be open.”
Reale said people were “so happy” the store was open. They were running out of food, milk and toilet paper. “We did our part. And because we’re small…if I can open the doors, I can ring people up. That was a recent instance of where we buckled down and worked with the neighborhood, just making sure they had food for the week.”
Learning about the grocery industry as a small independent has been a challenge, said Reale, but it has been nice to learn something new. He has worked side by side with his employees in setting up a “linear business model” for store operations. “We all work together as a family…we’re going to make decisions together, and we’re all going to have input. I’ve had a lot of fun working with my staff on that.”
He added that he can’t stress enough how “absolutely difficult” it is for independents to stay alive in the grocery world. The industry has been “taken over by the big guys,” leaving very few mom-and-pop grocers.
“I feel like anyone who is still alive and making it work, it has to be because of them doing something that no one else is. I feel like it’s that service aspect,” he said.
Reale encouraged all small, local independents to “keep their head in the game and continue doing what they’re doing. I feel the struggle. Believe me, it’s very difficult.”
He said it is important for people to focus on the experience and service a small, independent grocer can offer – “things that they’re not getting at the other place.”
For more information, visit roypopegrocery.com.