Courtney Brown and Ava Brown Shell grew up working in their father’s grocery store in Bixby, Oklahoma. Courtney now is CEO of Doc’s Food Stores Inc. while Ava comes in to help when needed. And her husband, Jake Shell, is center store director.
Courtney and Ava were pleased to talk with The Shelby Report about their father, Jim Brown, being inducted into the Food Industry Hall of Fame.
Courtney recalled always being at the grocery store when he was growing up. “I didn’t know any different.”
Ava remembered stocking cans when she was very young, riding her bicycle to work. “I was always at the store,” she said.
Both referred to the store as their babysitter. “Cashiers, deli bakery, everyone was our babysitter,” Ava said.
She added that some of her favorite memories were of the family working together at the holidays – the day before Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the only two holidays the business was closed. And even on those days, they still had to go in and check on the freezers.
The siblings each commented on some challenging times in their childhood, primarily when Super H, a competitor, came to town. Courtney said he remembers the late hours their father worked during those times, and his determination to keep the store open.
What stands out most about their dad, for him, is perseverance. He never gave up. “The only reason we are where we are today is because he didn’t quit.”
Courtney said he heard their father tell people, “As long as we stay open, we’re good. The minute we shut down, we’re in trouble.”
He said he remembered it “went from the store was loud and noisy with carts and people” and then it was quiet.
Both said their father never really let on to them how tight things got, but they knew something was different.
“We didn’t know how bad it was,” Courtney said. “We didn’t live a lavish lifestyle. We had everything we needed. We may not have had everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed growing up.”
He said their father just persevered. Jim Brown’s decision to leave “a company he had been with since 1946” and go with a new wholesaler, AWG, in 1992 was a “savior moment.” Buying the Glenpool store in 1997 – which put a squeeze on Super H – was another one.
In 1999, Jim Brown was able to buy out Super H.
Courtney said he had told his children they probably would never see the stores the way he had when growing up, “When everybody came to the store and shopped. And then it happened with COVID.”
Courtney said it was as if things had come full circle, from seeing every family in the store – once or twice a week – to being very sporadic. Then, with COVID, the store was packed again.
Ava helped fill orders during the pandemic. Both agreed the experience was a “good life-learning lesson.”
Courtney and Ava said they learned perseverance from their dad.
“Put your head down and just work. Just go, ‘Can’t worry about it.’ If there’s nothing you can do about it, you just got to go,” Courtney said.
“I’ve learned to have more patience…just watching how he does business and how he talks to people and how he can negotiate deals and who he knows. Those things have really stuck with me,” Ava said.
Both said their father always has been a big supporter of the local school system and believes in giving back to the community.
“We don’t have to have our name on a T-shirt. There are certain things we just do,” Courtney said.