Noel Garrett describes the vision and drive behind Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe

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By Lanier Laney
Like everyone else in town, here at The Island News we have been fascinated by what’s happening at the Old City Hall building at 302 Carteret St. (across from Wren and City Loft Hotel). It will be the new Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe and is scheduled to open this November, selling everything from baked goods to fresh produce to wine and prepared foods. It’s an extension of the very successful Lowcountry Produce in Lobeco and will feature their full line of products.  I interviewed Noel Garrett, son of the founders, about the history of Lowcountry Produce and their plans for the new venture. Here’s what he had to say:

Campbell Thorp, Dwight Garrett, & Noel Garrett

“My brother Dwight and my  parents, Martha and Dwight Garrett, bought eight to 10 recipes from Steve Dowdney in Charleston in the late 90’s that became the Lowcountry Produce line. Since then, my brother Dwight has developed an additional 30 plus products. Steve still works closely with us and is a great friend.
My parents came to Beaufort during the early days of Bray’s Island. I believe it was 1987. My father sold most of the original lots. My parents opened the store in the mid 1990’s. My brother Dwight moved here from Greenville, N.C., and became involved soon after.
About 10 years ago, Dwight began producing products for a few local companies and products for them to sell at the farmstand in Lobeco. The products were exceptional. All of us saw the potential for a specialty food line based in the Lowcountry. Campbell Thorp and I got involved with the marketing and sales end of the business about eight years ago.
My brother Dwight has the difficult job. He is responsible for manufacturing all of our products. I am in charge of the ‘look and feel‘ of the products and the retail stores. Also to make sure that we stay true to what we originally set out to do. Campbell has put the financial structure in place and at this point is overseeing the national sales.
An early boost for us was with New York-based Dean & Deluca, a national chain of gourmet food stores. They saw us at the New York Gift Show. They pulled in our line to all of their stores giving us a national presence. Since then, we have really worked all of the shows. We have a permanent showroom in Atlanta at AmericasMart. We exhibit at the Fancy Food Show as well.
We feel that the food of the Lowcountry is on the cusp of becoming the next big thing in the culinary world — similar to what Louisiana experienced a decade ago when everyone went crazy over Cajun food. The Lowcountry has such a rich culinary history — African, English, French Huguenot all combine to create a unique cuisine. We are not just fried chicken and grits any longer. Just look at the restaurant Husk in Charleston. They are James Beard winners as well as being named ‘Best New Restaurant in America’ by Bon Appétit for 2011.
We are extremely fortunate in the Lowcountry to have a long growing season. It allows all of us to truly embrace the buy local movement that is so strong now. As manufacturers of a specialty food line, this is a dream. We get the best local grown produce gathered at the height of the season to make our products. We sell our products anywhere from a roadside produce market to Dean & Deluca to the New York Botanical Garden. Our products are now offered in around 2,000 stores across the U.S. and Canada. We have strived to stay away from conventional grocery stores and to focus on the smaller independent gift and gourmet stores. Recently, 16 of our products have been introduced at all of The Fresh Market’s across the country. All of our products can be seen and purchased on our website, www.lowcountryproduce.com.
We had a wonderful surprise last year when our Sweet Potato Butter was chosen as one of ‘Oprah’s Favorites’ at Christmas. It really was amazing. Oh, the power of Oprah! We are still feeling the effects of being included on her list. Country Living Magazine named us one of the ‘Best American Pickle Brands’ last year as well. All of this press led to several segments on ‘Good Morning America’ and the ‘Today’ show.
Last year, Beaufortonians John and Erica Dickerson suggested opening a second location somewhere downtown in Beaufort.  They felt that we would do well. This was at the time the city was conducting the charettes regarding the 100 year master plan. Neighborhood groups involved said that there was a need for some type of grocery/market in the city core. We toured the old City Hall and immediately knew this was the place for us to expand. We then began meeting with the Redevelopment Commission and the Office of Civic Investment. The process took three to four months.
As we are working to build a national brand, we feel that expansion on a retail level here at home makes a lot of sense. We are fortunate to own a business that people have really embraced. Much of this is due to the years of hard work my parents put in to the business. Beaufort is the heart of the Lowcountry and we wanted a presence here in addition to our farmstand in Lobeco. We want this new market to be a celebration of everything ‘Lowcountry’ — from the food, to the people, to the lifestyle and its culinary history.
As far as hiring staff for the new retail location,  we will begin the interview process in early October. Interested applicants can email us at info@lowcountryproduce.com.
We really want it to be a true neighborhood market and have something for everyone. We will offer local produce during the growing season, as well as dairy, meat, seafood and cheese.  We are developing relationships with local and regional purveyors of interesting artisan food products, like Sweet Vivi’s wonderful sweet treats and others.  Of course, we will have plenty of our locally famous Tomato Pies, just made Key Lime Pies and fresh baked breads. Just pop-in and pick up your dinner for the evening! We will also offer a selection of beer and wine.
Aside from offering general grocery items, we will also offer some products that have yet to make their way to Beaufort. We are in a unique position because we go to all of the food shows.  We are constantly seeing what’s new and wonderful.”

Depending on the day of the week, we will be offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Market and Cafe will open around 8:00 am and close around 8:00 pm (times may change). We will be open 7 days a week.

The first question or concern everyone has is about parking. We have 17 spaces of free parking at the back of the building as well as curbside loading. We will also be a real neighborhood market, so we will have bike racks and are exploring the idea of grocery delivery.

The restoration of this amazing building has been an unbelievable process. Chuck Ferguson with Meridian Construction is our contractor and their work has been impeccable. During construction, we have discovered so much about the building – from hidden rooms to an ornate floor that was original to the 1917 lobby. We feel so fortunate to bring this building ‘back to life’. As silly as it sounds, the building is becoming a dear old friend. We strongly feel that Beaufort will be proud of what we have done.

Lowcountry Produce Market and Cafe will be located at 302 Carteret Street. Parking entrance at the back of building on Port Republic Street.  Their phone number: 843-322-1900    Products and their descriptions are online at:  www.lowcountryproduce.com.