A St. Louis urban farming operation is getting ready to open a grocery store and takeout place across from Crown Candy Kitchen later this month, nearly two years after winning a startup contest.
In August 2017, Good Life Growing won the competition with an idea to offer locally grown produce and takeout meals at a new enterprise, Old North Provisions.
But construction and marketing challenges delayed the opening at 2720 N. 14th St., now planned for late June. The experience has been more complicated than the “if you build it, they will come” mindset that many contestants had, according to co-founder James Forbes.
“Everyone in the contest just thought, 'Oh, you can ride the coattails of Crown Candy and the coming NGA [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency],'” Forbes said. “We're starting to realize that you have to build it, promote it, educate everyone — and then they'll come.”
'Our Big Game Plan'
The contest offered a nearly finished 4,464-square-foot space equipped with walk-in freezers, food-prep areas and ventilation system.
But getting the building up to code has proven difficult, Forbes said. The business has had to spend several thousand dollars of its own money to address electrical, plumbing and other building issues, he said.
NGA won’t start major construction until next year, and area foot traffic is light. Old North Provisions co-owners and employees have handed out hundreds of flyers in the neighborhood, hoping to drum up future business. They’ve also offered chess games, movie nights and other community events in the the space to help promote the business.
“That’s our big game plan ... to host so many free-to-the-public events that more people show up for the events and say, ‘Oh, hey, they’re selling groceries here, too; I’ll buy some,’” Forbes said.
Forbes and three co-founders — Matt Stoyanov, James Hillis and Robert Forbes — grow kale, tomatoes and other vegetables in nearly two dozen urban gardens in north St. Louis. They also grow food using methods that don’t rely on soil, such as hydroponic environments that only use water.
But many in the area are used to getting their groceries in what has traditionally been a food desert.
“So it’s trying to identify what we could do to differentiate ourselves from the gas stations and dollar stores,” he said.
Old North Provisions will participate in a statewide program called Double Up, which provides extra fruits and vegetables to people with EBT cards, or food stamps.
Forbes is optimistic the operation will be successful.
“We know that there are a lot of people who are eager to support us,” Forbes said.
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