BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: So Much More Than Just a Store
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
When I really want a good piece of meat—steak, salmon, pork tenderloin, sausage, or even shrimp or oysters—I go to Pinetucky Country Meats. Really, though, there just about isn’t anything in the world of meat that you can’t find at Pinetucky. My favourites these days, when I want to do a really nice dinner, are to get a hand cut sirloin, about an inch and half thick, or (if they’re available) a couple of aged, hand cut filet mignon. There’s just something special, unique, and completely irreplaceable about walking in, talking to someone you know on a first name basis, someone you trust, and having them individually select and prepare the main part of what will become an act of sacred love later that evening—the act of feeding someone. It is nothing short of being “in the circle of life” with one another—that relationship you have with your hometown butcher—but, if not for some completely unexpected and, at the time, unfortunate events, no one would have ever had the now rare chance for that kind of relationship, let alone have such painstaking care and attention afforded to what they put in their bodies. But that is what Pinetucky Country Meats sells, really: A level of care and attention to what they offer their community that comes from a place of love most people only reserve for family. Talking to owner Del Brown, though, it is immediately obvious that he sees his community members, the people who shop in his stores, as exactly that—extended family.
Del is now fifty-three years old. At a time when a lot of men are staring down the end of a career and looking towards retirement, Del shows no signs of slowing down, even if he says he has. If the old adage that “the Lord works in mysterious ways” holds true for anyone, it holds true for Del. In his self-imposed “dungeon” office, where he has to sequester himself these days in order to find the kind of solitude necessary to manage the myriad logistical decisions that come with running Pinetucky, the main “custom-cut butcher shop,” and his two other Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, Del looks back on how he ended up there. He says, “the good Lord has truly blessed us.” From my chair across the plain and unassuming office desk, covered with pricing spreadsheets and samples of potential new products, it sure looks to be true.
Del Brown had worked in the corporate grocery world for twenty-five years when, after a purchase and merger between Harvey’s supermarket and the Winn Dixie corporation, he and most of his business associates were handed a severance package and their walking papers. Most men would have taken this bitter pill with a healthy dose of resentment and anger. Del simply looked around, took stock of what was important to him, and, rather than take any of the several enticing offers on the table for him, realized that keeping his family rooted in the community he and his wife had come to call home and that his two sons had grown up in felt more like the “right thing to do.” Del spends a lot of time thinking about what the “right thing to do” is. It shows.
When Del made the decision to stay in Emanuel County, though, he still had one problem. He had a family to care and provide for. As fate (or, if you’re Del, the good Lord) would have it, he and his sons had recently started a deer processing business that they operated out of a smallish shed next to their house on Pinetucky Road. He says, “I began to have a vision of an old timey butcher shop.” The more he thought about it, the more the vision began to take shape in his mind. Leveraging all he could afford to, he expanded the deer processing operation into what he envisioned.
In 2014, the first Pinetucky Country Meats opened in the expanded building that still sits right next to their house. The support for him and his rustic little “hand cut butcher shop” from the community was immediate. The shop carried the best high quality meat he could get, knowing that quality would be key to standing out and surviving up against the corporate giants “in town.” He also sold staples and grilling accessories and condiments—he developed a series of rubs and marinades, and also sold jams and jellies, still available today. As word began to spread about how superior the meat at Pinetucky was, and how wonderful it was to buy from someone that everyone knew and trusted, more and more people made the ten to twelve mile drive from Swainsboro out to his little rustic shop. It became apparent, pretty quickly, that they were going to need a bigger shop.
One day, Del was riding through town, and, for some reason, his eyes landed on the old Shop Rite pharmacy building. The old pharmacy had recently moved to a newer facility close to the hospital, so the old building was just sitting there. Its well-known brick façade was a place of comfort to so many in the community. What was going to happen to it, now that it was empty? Del began to have another vision. What if the old building could be repurposed as an expanded, centralized, version of Pinetucky? He contacted Butch Parrish, who owned the old building, and, after some back and forth, settled on a deal to buy it. Rolling the dice on a gut feeling based on the resounding support they’d received for Pinetucky Country Meats, Del began renovation on the old building in 2016. He says, “We had to gut the building. We wanted a rustic and nostalgic feeling but with new flair.” The ground-up renovation took shape quickly and, in 2017, the new, expanded Pinetucky Country Meats opened.
Again, the support and response from the community was immediate and unmistakable. In just a few short years, Del had taken that bitter pill he was given and realized a dream. The community was starved for what he offered, and offers still: the kind of authenticity that the “big box” stores will never offer, and the kind of customer service they never will either. The community was starved for good food, provided by someone they knew, and the nostalgia of the old butcher shops they went to as kids with their parents or grandparents. The community was starved, and Del has been feeding the community’s need for that love, attention, and authenticity ever since.
It wasn’t long before his success caught the attention of surrounding communities. That attention led to Del being approached by a series of individuals encouraging him to turn his attention to expand further. Specifically, a group was pressing him to look into the old Piglet store in nearby Soperton. He thought about it and, with his twenty-five years in grocery store operations, plus his focus on “knowing the meat—the most important thing on your plate,” thought it would be worth inquiring about. He called the owner who told him that it wasn’t for sale, but that “it could be.” Again, Del began to have a vision. After negotiations, he ended up buying the entire shopping plaza the Piglet was in. Again, he gutted and renovated the store, branding the new place as Pinetucky Country Meats. Del says, “That was the one slip up we’ve had.” People’s reaction to the loss of “their Piglet,” was not what he’d expected. But, it reminded him of how a place can be fixed to feelings of nostalgia. People had become emotionally attached to “their Piglet.” So, wanting to respond to the community’s feelings and needs, Del began researching and found that the Piggly Wiggly company would sell him their branding franchise and provide support for a regular franchise fee. There would be no oversight, and no direct control over how he stocked the store or what he sold. He would still have the freedom to control the meat, which was essential to his vision of success. And the Piggly Wiggly company would provide as much marketing and support as he needed. It was, as he says, “a no-brainer . . . everyone around these parts remembers Piggly Wiggly.”
In 2019, the Soperton store was rebranded and converted to the more conventional grocery store feel of a Piggly Wiggly. Again, as if the “good Lord” had a hand in Del’s visions, the community support response was immediate, almost overnight. What had been a struggling venture has now grown steadily since the rebranding.
An ordinary businessman, at that point, might have settled into a routine to just manage his existing workload. But, Del Brown is not an ordinary businessman. Del seems to be driven by forces primal and unrelenting. Del Brown is driven to do “right” by those in his community. So, when people from the small, neighboring town of Twin City started to ask him, “When are you going to open a store over here?” Del began to think. He began to have yet another one of his visions. The old Twin City grocery store had gone out of business. The building needed renovation badly, though, and initial negotiations with the owners fell through. But, he was hearing from so many people, hungry for what Del offers, that he was committed to the idea of opening a store there. After finding a site to build a new building, he once again approached the owners of the old store, encouraging them to please let him save the existing structure—why build something new when there’s already something people know that can be saved? Finally, all parties came to an agreement and Del bought the building. Continuing his success with the Piggly Wiggly franchise in Soperton, he renovated the store, cleaned everything up, expanded the footprint and brought the building completely up to his expectations for excellence, and reopened the Twin City Piggly Wiggly store in November of 2020. And, yet again, the support and response from the community was immediate and has not let up.
Del Brown knows something that has been forgotten, to a saddening degree. But, he’s trying to remind us—the world—starting with his little corner of it. He knows that when people “realize that good, quality products are the best for our communities and our families,” they will support the businesses providing them.
Del Brown’s success bears out the evidence of that. Del Brown also knows something else about community and family—that when you make those your central focus, people respond to that, too. Without hesitation, and choking himself and me up a bit, Del says that, “Everything I’ve done to this point has been for my family. I love my wife, my two sons and their wives, and now our grandkids—all of that is what drives me.
We have tried to teach our boys a life lesson with all this—if you work hard, do right, and don’t expect anything to be handed to you, benefits will come. We feel strongly about serving our community, and I’m just a common man trying to make common sense decisions from a common sense approach.”
Sitting in his stark, unassuming, back room office where he goes, not because he doesn’t want to see and talk to everyone that comes into his store, but because he DOES and would never get anything done otherwise, it’s easy to understand Del Brown’s success. Del Brown truly cares.