Matt Runkle knew a downtown grocery was a top priority for area residents, but as he prepares to open his Native Roots Market in Deep Deuce, he has encountered some visitors who simply couldn't wait for it to open.
“A lady came in four days ago and started shopping,” Runkle said. “She was taking products off the shelf. We had another guy come in, he started browsing the aisles, and you could tell, he was already in the zone.”
Cathy O'Connor, director of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, isn't surprised by such reactions. She ranks a downtown grocery as the top priority for the city's growing urban population.
“The No. 1 thing people ask me is, ‘When do we get a grocery store downtown?'” O'Connor said. “Even though Native Roots is small, it's designed to meet the needs of the downtown market, and it will definitely help with perception of the availability of amenities for downtown residents.”
Runkle and his wife, Sara Kaplan, began planning for the relocation of their store from Norman to the Level Urban Apartments in Deep Deuce last March. In July, they and their infant daughter, Stella, moved into an apartment above the grocery.
Though the couple initially planned to keep their Norman store open, they changed course as they confronted the increased competition posed by Natural Foods and Sprouts Market. At the same time, they witnessed a better-than-anticipated potential market in Deep Deuce.
When first wooed to Deep Deuce by developer and longtime customer Richard McKown, Runkle and Kaplan were led to believe their grocery was needed to help lease the apartments.
The apartment complex at NE 2 and Walnut Avenue, however, was fully leased when it opened in July — even though the grocery was still under construction. Construction since has begun on more apartments at NE 4 and Oklahoma Avenue, and more for-sale housing on The Hill at NE 2 and Russell Perry Avenue.
“That's when we realized, ‘Oh wow, the demand is already down here,'” Runkle said.
Kaplan said much of the emphasis on locally produced foods and goods created by family businesses that the couple had with the Norman store will stay intact in Deep Deuce.
Kaplan estimated they carry items created from 100 local vendors that range from meats to goat milk and wooden toys. She said they get heritage pork from a farmer who can't produce in bulk amounts sufficient to satisfy a single Whole Foods store, yet is well set for a store like Native Roots.
The couple also are adding “staples” — most notably low-point beer and Sonic-style bags of ice — to meet the demand of the surrounding neighborhood. The store is set to offer a mix of frozen foods, cereals, dairy goods, produce, canned foods, sauces, pastas, cleaning and hygienic products. Runkle said that even though the space, 2,400 square feet, is smaller than the former 2,700-square-foot Norman store, the design allows for more shelving, freezer and refrigerator space.
The store's deli operation is being expanded to include a variety of sandwiches, prepared meals, salads and soups. And the spice bar — the original inspiration for the launching of Native Roots — is being expanded as well.
“Say you eat frozen entrees all the time, but then want to make something from scratch,” Runkle said. “We give you the spice components you need — the complicated part. We walk people through the cooking; we hold their hand and help them get through it.”
He said he expects the store to open this month — well ahead of their traditional special Thanksgiving offerings of turkeys, special variety spice rubs, and fresh-from-the-farm broccoli delivered to the store a couple of days before the holiday.
“No one does what we do,” Runkle said. “That's how we developed such a reputation in Norman in just five years.”
Runkle said the store will likely go through adjustments as he monitors what items are most in demand by customers. The store will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays, though Runkle said he may decide to remain open later on Thursday through Saturday nights.
With the seven-story Aloft Hotel set to open across the street next year and Deep Deuce already home to the Wedge Pizzeria, Deep Deuce Grill and, soon, Le Cep bistro and a liquor store, Runkle and Kaplan believe the area is on the verge of becoming Oklahoma City's first fully developed mixed-use urban neighborhood.
Kaplan believes Native Roots may well become the social hub of Deep Deuce.
“Interaction at a store like this is high,” Kaplan said. “Since we're a small store, we get to know our customers. And it becomes the point where you start to create a strong, vibrant community. I think it will be a hub of activity.”