It was love at first bite Andy Carloss brings his affection for Paducah, produce, and becoming a proprietor to fruition with the creation of the new Midtown Market
“It’s exciting!” Andy Carloss comments. And he’s not the only one who feels that way.
Ever since the Myrick’s facade began getting a facelift, the excitement began to emanate from Paducah passersby.
As word spread that a young Paducah native was coming home to transform a landmark grocery into an urban market, anticipation spread right along with the conversation.
For Andy Carloss, a graduate of Paducah Tilghman and the University of Kentucky, the conversation began in his head the day he graduated from college and headed north.
Andy took a summer internship during college with a high tech company in Boston. When the company offered him a position a year later, he made the move and for the next six years his career was being carried out in the northeast but his heart was yearning for a way home.
“I knew a month after moving to Boston that I would ultimately come back home,” Carloss recalls. “I’ve always been proud of Paducah and Kentucky and my roots are here. I love the outdoors, and my family and friends are here. I think I’ve always known that I would find some way to make this my home again.”
Ironically, it was probably the move to a major metropolitan area that propelled the eventuality that is now a reality. “I’m a foodie at heart,” he explains. “So when I was working long hours at the tech company I sought out small markets in my neighborhood to get meals that I knew were prepared by people I would come to know. I wanted to eat well but I didn’t want to go out every night or grab food from chain restaurants. Here I could find food you don’t get in a typical supermarket. The store owners were knowledgeable about the food they offered and there was a quality that could only be found in these small food stores.”
Little did Carloss know at the time that this urban experience would be the inspiration for the new Midtown Market that opened its doors this past May in Paducah.
With the spirit and drive of a true entrepreneur, Carloss began to consider options for a project “back home” that would offer the community something innovative and appealing. First, there was the notion of a full-blown farmer’s market or co-op. Then there was the consideration of a franchise opportunity with the likes of Fresh Market or Trader Joe’s. When neither of those ideas seemed to be the right fit, Carloss’s two sisters told him to make them a visit in Louisville and check out Paul’s Fruit Market. (Insert life lesson: always listen to the women in your life.}
This well-known and well-run Louisville establishment was just the inspiration Carloss needed to see his vision start to materialize. “I can honestly say that the development of the Midtown Market could not have happened without the time and interest I was given by Phil Thieneman, the president of Paul’s Fruits. He and his sister were instrumental in assisting me in many facets of the market. In the last year before I left the Boston company, I would take my vacations and work at a couple of the stores in Louisville to try and learn the business. And I fell in love with it.”
It took Carloss a few tries to get the owner of the company to return his phone calls but when the two finally spoke by long distance, it only took moments for the experienced entrepreneur and the passionate young proprietor to “connect.” Within weeks the man Carloss had made several assumptions about by way of a phone call, drove to Paducah, met Carloss at Whitehaven at 6 am on a spring morning, stepped out of his car, rose to an imposing height of 7 feet donned in basketball shorts and a tee shirt, and asked where the best donut shop was.
“It was funny because first I had visualized Phil much older than he really was. I didn’t expect him to be a former basketball player, and I certainly didn’t expect him to be scouting a donut shop upon his arrival,” Carloss laughs.
A donut was simply an early morning kick-start. Thieneman is a serious food connoisseur and after their sweet treat, he asked Carloss to take him to every entity in the city that offered a similar product line. After the duo’s thorough journey of discovery, Carloss’s new management mentor concluded that the Myrick’s location was the place to be.
Carloss made the final decision to walk down the “aisle” to his new investment. The innovative renovation began. Source, stock, and distributors were chosen. The overall concept was conceived and a plan of action was put in play. And thanks to the sage advice of a second generation green-grocer, a philosophy was implemented that portends both profitability and proficiency.
“The idea is that you don’t throw anything away,” Carloss explains. “Phil’s father started their company in the 40s and worked through some very lean times. His strategy was to use everything. If a strawberry was bruised, you cut out the bruise and sliced it up for customers. If a case of strawberries had gone bad, you made shortcake or smoothies. That’s where we came up with the idea of the meals-to-go from the kitchen. If we have meat or produce that we can’t move in an appropriate timeframe, then we can utilize those items to prepare fresh food. Nothing goes to waste and we’re able to offer both unique and organic items either in their natural state or in a creation from our own kitchen.”
And that’s where two key players come in.
Enter Kim Bell and Jessi Donaldson. “I made a conscious decision to hire people that I could clearly see were as energized as I was about the market,” Carloss explains. “I purposefully did not hire people with long histories at grocery stores. I wanted to think differently and I wanted my staff to do the same.”
Kim Bell is the market’s gourmet manager. “One of the things Phil says he asks first of potential employees is about the foods they themselves eat. That’s an immediate indication of where their food interests lie. It was obvious to me, at once, that Kim was capable, creative, and a good first choice to get our inventory up to speed. She has been critical in getting the right items on the shelves for our customers. And even in this short time, I’m able to pass off so many decisions to Kim so that I can focus on the operation of the market.”
Carloss then came “face to face” (on Facebook) with Jessi Donaldson, a former Tilghman classmate and a recent graduate of the West Kentucky Community and Technical College culinary program.
“One night before I shut my computer down I saw that Jessi had won an award at the college for her work at the culinary arts program,” Carloss says. “So I sent her a message, we soon met, and now she’s our queen of cuisine back there in the kitchen. And I couldn’t be more excited about the team that we have pulled together to create interesting and delicious entrees and side dishes for our meal offerings each day. Jessi is not only bringing skill to the Market, she’s bringing a fantastic enthusiasm that I hope our customers will see and appreciate as time goes on.”
What all of us can appreciate at present is that Paducah has created an environment where new ideas are nurtured, where young people can make an investment in their future, and where one young entrepreneur can “produce” a new LIFE for himself in the very place where his life began.