(Blogger’s Note: Each Friday, an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears ini this space.)
"The Simple Life" article turned Crocus Hill into a real store. Traffic increased, business boomed, sales, customer count, and exposure skyrocketed, for a while. The article jettisoned us to national prominence on the talk show circuit and this lead to a larger stir in the neighborhood, which spread across the state and eventually the heartland. The publicity and praise injected new life into the tiring team of Kranston and Foley. We had gotten our butts kicked during the first five struggling months of ownership. The article gave us the boost we needed to create more marketing, and to develop a workable business plan that in the beginning seemed only a dream. Plus, the notoriety we obtained before chefs, food and markets of the gourmet set were featured in four color pages brought interest from other gourmands.
Fellow grocers thinking for so long they were trapped in the job of bagging Campbell Soup and checking the date codes on Ball Park Franks, suddenly realized there may be light at the end of the small mark-up retail food tunnel. As we turned down offers to "buy them out", we offered advice them advice on remodeling in order to reposition and sell there stores. At the time, we could have gotten elected, individually or as a team, to the "Save the Small Grocery Store from Extinction" committee. Unfortunately, one didn´t exist.
Calls came in from Lutsen. Bob in Bemidji begged us to acquire his family´s jewel. Andy in Ames and Don in Des Moines each wanted us to drive up to see their properties. Ted Jameson stopped by and wanted to trade his tea room in Wayzata for the store. An even swap he said. We were on to something, we thought. It could be the beginning of a small chain of gourmet grocery stores.
North Dakota Willie was the best, though.
"Yah, Ve saw da story in da magazine and wanna know, ahh, if ya might, ah, wanna move to Fa Fa Fargo? We got a little gem of a store here and ve might be ready ta let somebody move in an take Ã«er over." Willie said.
I politely declined after a nano-second of thought.
Then Bernie from Brainerd made his pitch.
"Yah, is da gal in da picture near da phone? I got a place in town, Brainerd, and she´ll love it. The wife and I, ahh, we´ll let her have it on the cheap." Bernie said.
Again, a hesitant decline.
Don´t think we didn´t entertain the thought. We had our eye on a market in Uptown Minneapolis that was almost on the auction block. We scoped it. We scouted it. And on three nights out of seven we sat out in front of it, running customer counts while discussing numbers and remodel plans.
The article pumped new life, fresh blood into our entrepreneurial spirit and the thought of expansion seemed exciting while making some financial sense.
If geographically feasible and financially compatible we made the decision to look for another property. And, after running the numbers to that Uptown store we decided to make the call. Of course we couldn´t let anyone know of our intentions, so when I called the store, I identified myself as a grocery store broker from Chicago. I told the owner that I had someone interested in the store and that I would have my client call him if he would be interested in selling.
And, of course he was.
With business at Crocus Hill escalating rapidly- and deliveries growing faster than we ever imagined, our accounts receivables were also hitting rocket ship proportion. They became stratospheric overnight. A strange thing about accounts receivable- it is tough to whittle down accounts payable if all you money is tied up in the community´s charge accounts. But, our marketing program was working. April is the first month in Minnesota that resembles life outside the bubble. The streets begin hosting life once again. And, with the coming of spring, Kranston initiated her vegetable hat kid program complete with limousine service to coincide with the magazine´s publicity.
Each Saturday, our two famous stock boys from the center spread picture- wearing baseball caps covered with cloth vegetables- would walk Grand Avenue sporting old fashioned sandwich board signs. Resembling town criers they would shout the specials of the day in the best boasting voice of a ten year old boy wearing a hat with cloth vegetables. As they walked Grand Avenue everyone recognized them as the kids in the picture in Time Magazine. But, we didn´t stop there – famed St. Paulite, Dick O´Toole, owned a classic 1942 Vanden Plas. E hired the limo and driver to parade up and down Grand Ave. offering shoppers rides to the market.
Eventually, we established stops along a regular route. Parking for the market was minimal and the limo solved that. For a few bucks, O´Toole would drive the customers home. Nothing made us feel better than having those customers who shopped with food stamps be driven home by limo. One customer in particular, whose name will remain anonymous, took pleasure on walking to the store, from the ghetto, on Saturday afternoons. He made it a point to get to the store just before O´Toole would leave and I would always make sure he got a ride home. One Saturday he confessed.
"Mr. Foley, nothing feels better than to have my neighbors see me ride in the back of a limousine with a finely dressed white man driving.
Nothing succeeds like success. A parade of people with proposals in hand ventured into the store attempting to entice us to open other locations. Real Estate guys wanting us to rent dilapidated buildings and remodel them offered us properties all over the country. Cub Hooley´s daughter, then the real estate marketing representative for Mall of America wanted us to open at the Mall. When we asked why her father, the entrepreneur behind Cub Foods, who also owned Hooley´s in Stillwater, Minnesota wouldn´t open there she decided we weren´t as gullible as we appeared. Then it happened, a developer walked in with a copy of Time Magazine in his hand. He introduced himself to Kranston as Rob Dick. He said he wanted to talk about a little property in Deephaven, Minnesota that he thought we might like to look at. It was small, it had a kitchen, and it was ready to go.