New things coming for Miss Cordelia's in Harbor Town

A new general manager at Miss Cordelia's Grocery is fixing what isn't broken.

Russell Smith recently joined the Harbor Town store's team with a goal of refining the product offering without taking away the familiarity.

"I'm trying to take what's already an established, well-liked business and try and do some things that can make it a little bit better and a little more updated without rocking the boat too much," Smith says.

Increasing the number of organic food options is on his to-do list, as well as adding prepared foods that appeal to those with dietary restrictions. Think paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free and low-sodium options.

Some changes already are afoot. Smith added a bomber selection of beers and changed the store's coffee-by-the-cup selection to Relevant Roasters, a Memphis roasting company launched last year by Jimmy Lewis.

He hired Jake Miller as Miss Cordelia's new chef. Miller, who previously worked as general manager at Babalu and chef instructor at L’Ecole Culinaire, will be phasing in new sandwich options and other new items over the next few months.
The store plans to hire a new baker soon, who will elevate the bread and pastry options currently available.

Smith left a six-year career as an analyst with FedEx Corp. to lead the neighborhood grocery. He and Henry Turley "had breakfast every other Saturday for a year," Smith says, before he bought into the business last summer and officially started Sept. 1. "I wanted to do something that was a little more entrepreneurial, and more Memphis-centric," he says.

Smith is quick to acknowledge his highly tenured staff for their assistance through the transition. He came with business and financial acumen, but his employees--some of whom have more than 30 years of grocery experience--have allowed him to dig into the numbers while they handle operations.

His "digging in" has Smith analyzing product offerings to see what can be phased out to make room for what needs to be phased in. The potential for wine sales also will have an effect on the store's shelf space and profitability.

The grocery scene in Memphis has been "Kroger-centric" since Schnuck's abandoned the market in 2011. Smith says that's changing, with Whole Foods, The Fresh Market and Sprouts expanding or establishing a presence.

But the city still needs more options.

"Certainly, for a long time, we have been underserved from a quality grocery standpoint," he says.

And that’s where expansion opportunities could come into play in the future. Smith says he would love to see more Miss Cordelia's stores open in Memphis neighborhoods with "a strong sense of place." He and Turley would be open to expansion if the right place and opportunity came along.

For now, he's focused on Harbor Town and his duty to give island dwellers a store they enjoy.

"My number one goal is to have people shop here because they want to," he says. "We're not the store for everybody, but I do think that there are people who buy here because they like being here. My goal is to give them more reasons to like it and keep them liking it.

"And maybe they'll tell their friends."

Read more articles by Jane A. Donahoe.

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