In 2011, Mary Walsh and Jac Oliver found it difficult to find everything they wanted from farmers markets and would even locate farmers themselves to buy produce. This inspired the idea of creating a grocery opened every day where people can always go in and trust the source of the produce.
The two moms said they set off to make it happen and along the way saw a need for another café in Greenville. The Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery was soon born.
“We wanted to create a café that used local ingredients, everything was fresh and made fresh,” Walsh said.
Walsh and Oliver then started to look for land and met with local farmers.
“Long before the business opened, we met with every farmer at the farmers markets to explain what we wanted and needed,” Walsh said. “This was around the time we started looking for property or land to be rented.”
It was very important for the property to be walkable and safe.
“The Swamp Rabbit Trail had just opened with a lot that had been abandoned for years so we started looking to see if the land could be rented,” Walsh said.
While Walsh and Oliver were investigating the property, it was in the works to become a scrap-metal yard. Luckily, the plans fell through and it would eventually become Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery.
“When we first opened, we had 1,800 square feet to work with,” Walsh said. “The café, bakery and grocery were all in what is now the café space.”
With the trail just opening, the shop wouldn’t get too crowded. The first concern when everything first started was building repeat business.
“We were banking on people going out of their way to support local farmers if they could, and they did,” Walsh said.
One program that Walsh and Oliver worked really hard on was acquiring coffee and chocolate.
“We try to source coffee as sustainably and ethically as possible,” Walsh said. “With coffee and chocolate in particular, people don’t realize how difficult it is to find chocolate to feel good about.”
For perspective, instead of paying $4 for fair-trade coffee, they pay $23 a pound for direct-trade coffee. “We go through [hoops] to make sure everything is within our standards,” Walsh said.
On average during the week, there are about 500 transactions. During the weekend, there are easily over 1,000, Walsh said. The main focus of the café and grocery is efficiency.
“Our big problem when we first started was getting customers,” Walsh said. “Now it is learning to be efficient and maintaining a good experience with so many people around.”
In order to run the grocery, Walsh and Oliver had to obtain matching grants from the USDA to help market local food. The program sought to help small farmers succeed.
“We made an argument that if we could get a few pieces of equipment, like refrigeration, we could buy a certain amount more from farmers and expand the grocery,” Walsh said.
One novel idea the Swamp Rabbit Grocery owners had that’s proven successful is the food hub.
“It is a place that aggregates food from local farmers with the idea being that as one small farm it is hard to get out to customers, invoice and take orders,” Walsh said.
Walsh continued to say that instead of one farm distributing to 40 different restaurants, they sell everything to the grocery and café.
“They sell everything to us and as a service to them, we sell to the restaurants,” Walsh said. “We already had a buyer in house spending time sourcing for local stuff and it was a need in the community, so we naturally helped.”