Five years have passed since Matt Runkle and his wife, Sara, first dreamed up the idea for opening Native Roots Market in Norman. Yet he still excitedly lists off cleaning products, cereals, meats, dairy, poultry, seasonings and other grocery staples unique to his store — as if it's still opening day.
Customers share in that excitement, including visiting celebrities, who, like Willie Nelson, have found Native Roots a perfect stop for finding hard-to-get specialties like honey combs.
Runkle and his wife, Sara Kaplan, hope downtown Oklahoma City residents will soon share in that excitement as they prepare to open a second Native Roots Market in Deep Deuce next year.
The location itself, the future Level Urban Apartments, is still under construction. The corner spot at NE 2 and Walnut was reserved for such a grocery by developer Richard McKown from the moment the project was announced last year.
“It's been a huge priority,” McKown said. “It's not that it was hard to make it happen. It was hard to find the space to make it happen. We turned it over to Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the designers, and said ‘Guys, this is paramount. The city wants this store. We need free parking. We need it integrated into the building. We need the highest visibility possible.'”
That very effort was key in attracting Runkle, Sara Kaplan, and her parents Steve and Joan Kaplan. McKown was visiting with Steve Kaplan on unrelated business last year when he asked his friend if he knew of any grocers who might be interested in opening a store in Deep Deuce. He didn't know the family was already considering such an expansion of their own.
In fact, competition by downtown Oklahoma City developers and property owners was fierce for doing a deal with Native Roots Market.
“We had a lot of offers,” Runkle said. “We had four or five offers altogether. There are minor technicalities in the positing of the building. They were all great locations and candidates, but there are a lot of particulars in that area of Oklahoma City you have to be aware of.”
McKown said Native Roots was a perfect fit for Level, noting other grocers were interested in a minimum of 10,000 square feet with 250 parking spaces. Native Roots, in comparison, feels like an old-fashioned neighborhood grocery — the sort still found in New York City and Chicago, he said. Downtown residents, meanwhile, have been relentless in asking McKown when or if his previously announced intention to include a grocery at Level would come true.
“I get asked about it nonstop,” McKown said. “‘Who is it going to be, when it is going to open, will it be a convenience store, will it be a real grocery store?'”
With a lease signed this week, Runkle and the Kaplans' next step is to plan out the space, which they note is smaller than their store in Norman. Runkle is hoping to visit some stores in Chicago to see how they deal with tight shelf space, but he promises all the essentials sold in Norman will also be sold in Deep Deuce. The store also will include a small deli section not included in the Norman store.
Runkle and Sara Kaplan say they've enjoyed being involved in downtown Norman festivals and parades, and they promise they will be just as committed to downtown Oklahoma City.
Sara Kaplan is set to give birth to a baby girl within the next couple of weeks, and by this time next year, the three will be living in an apartment above the new Deep Deuce store.
“We're promoting an urban life style,” Sara Kaplan said. “So if we want to talk the talk, we've got to walk the walk.”