Room to Grow: Duckweed Urban Market
Brent and Michelle Deatherage loved the lifestyle and sense of community afforded by residing in downtown Tampa but felt it lacked one significant amenity – a grocery within easy walking distance.
“We were astounded there wasn’t one here,” says Michelle. High-rise residential developments, sidewalks packed weekdays with office workers and the proximity of major sports, entertainment and arts venues seemed to make the area ripe for a retail outlet stocked with pastas, produce and even pet food.
The couple, both professionals with full-time jobs, took the grocery gamble in 2011 and opened the diminutive Duckweed Urban Market on Polk Street, just around the corner from the Tampa Theatre.
It was a first-time venture into an industry they knew firsthand as consumers, not as owners or operators. Michelle has a lengthy management career with Lowe’s, spanning more than a decade, while Brent works in the medical field as a physician associate.
Initially the Deatherages took a downsized approach to offering an upmarket shopping experience. Squeezing a checkout area, chilled foods section, assorted wines, and a nice selection of packaged and fresh foods into a 600-square-foot site made any shopping experience to Duckweed comparable to stepping into a large pantry rather than a full-service grocery store. No way a wheeled cart would make it through those aisles.
When higher-end items didn’t sell well, they diversified the merchandise to include more staples. That meant stocking basics like bacon and farm-fresh eggs, along with locally sourced items such as craft beers, Buddy Brew coffee and Whatever Pops frozen treats. “We had never owned a business of any magnitude before so we wanted to keep our costs low and see what people wanted. Initially, we were more gourmet than grocery,” she said. “We knew we could not do volume so we wanted to be known for being different.”
Shortly after the doors of Duckweed opened, a promotion for Michelle prompted the pair to move to Charlotte, N.C. The former hands-on owners were now onlookers, watching from afar as associates handled the day-to-day business demands.
But realizing how much they missed Tampa, the Deatherages moved back in 2013, this time settling in the Channel District just outside of downtown. Back where they belonged, it was time to take Duckweed to the next level and transplant it into bigger digs.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to look far. The Element, a recently opened residential apartment tower on Franklin Street, had ground-level space located just blocks from Duckweed’s original address. It was a major move into a high-ceilinged site filled with natural light and more than four times the square footage of the first location. The new 2,500-square-foot, free flowing locale includes a loft large enough for a band to use as a stage and a sidewalk area suitable for al fresco dining.
Within months of the move, the Duckweed concept has expanded to include a juice bar offering made-to-order drinks and an a la carte menu of just-prepared, ready-to-eat breakfast items, wraps, sandwiches, salads and entrees. Bulk foods and a larger freezer section are in the plans, as are weekly visits by the Happy Baker food truck, which will bring their signature banana breads and fruit-flavored pound cakes to Duckweed shoppers.
As temperatures cool this fall, permits to allow on-site consumption of beer and wine should be in place, so customers can purchase seasonal beers or organic wines, pop them open and enjoy while dining, listening to live music or watching live cooking demonstrations.
“With the expansion, people’s expectations were amplified,” says Brent. “We are attracting some savvy, well-educated customers and they welcome a broader selection of what is offered. This is much more than a grocery store.
“We enjoy being able to help downtown grow, develop and become a true urban city.”