It's one of the only mom and pop grocery stores left in East Tennessee and it is thriving. To think Butler and Bailey was started by a kid right out of college, Tom Butler, more than 20 years ago.
Patrons come and go from Butler and Bailey Market buying fruits and vegetables, steaks, a carton of milk and socializing a bit, too. It's a hometown store with a hometown feel and behind it all is Tom Butler. He's a local guy who has been working in the grocery business since he was 14.
"My grandfather was in the wholesale grocery business," says Tom.
His first day on the job in particular stands out.
"I spent all day carrying these Cokes out trying to lift them into the back of these pick-up trucks and you'd take the returnable bottles and carry them in and that was kind of my introduction to the grocery business," says Tom.
He worked side by side with a traditional grocery man, Mr. Bailey. "He and I just kind of hit it off, he kind of took me in. parents were divorced so he became a father figure to me," says Tom.
Tom went off to college and when he came home to East Tennessee, he bought this store from his uncle during a time when big chain stores were putting a strain on independent grocery stores.
"I just. I don't know. I had this sense and I thought you know what I bet this store could survive," says Tom. "I asked my dad if I could borrow a bunch of money so we could start remodeling it and getting it clean. It was kind of in rough shape."
The name was important, too. "I asked Mr. Bailey if he could one, work with me in the store, which he was glad to do. And two, if we could use his name on the store," says Tom. "The philosophy was that either he or I or both of us would always be in the store."
And so Butler and Bailey was born. A lot of people were skeptical.
"I remember this lady. I was back by the meat cases. She just walked up to me and she said, 'I just want to tell you you are never gonna make it.' And I said, 'Thank you for your input'."
It certainly took a lot of hard work. "Mr. Bailey and I sort of had this unspoken competition of who could work the most hours," says Tom.
Tom and Mr. Bailey gave it everything they had and when Mr. Bailey passed away in 2009, Tom had to take the store to the next level on his own. The store recently underwent a renovation and Tom put a heavy focus on local. The market now sells products from local companies Cruze Dairy Farm, Benton's Bacon, Vienna Coffee and Flour Head, among others. Tom even started growing his own produce to sell.
"I thought well, I've got a big yard. By golly, I'll just plow up my yard and plant a garden and do it myself," says Tom.
And the whole family is involved, Tom's wife, Erica, and their two kids, Lauren and Tyson.
"I'm trying to get my kids involved in one, outdoors activities, two knowing what it takes to work, get up, be responsible," says Tom.
Tom says it's all about the customer. "We can never out-advertise our competitors. We can never out-spend our competitors on facilities, but what we can do is we can build relationships."
Even one of his toughest critics came around. "It hasn't been a year ago that lady came in and she said, 'I owe you an apology.' And I'm like for what? She said, 'The first year you started here I came in here and I told you this place will never make it and you made it. And my husband said the other day that you need to apologize to that guy for saying that.'"
Butler and Bailey, a family market, a true family operation with a spirit for local people and local produce.
One of your stories. There's no place like this one.
Butler and Bailey is in the Rocky Hill community on Northshore Drive. Local foodie Barbara Tenney also offers cooking classes several times a week at the store.