The popular Chapel Hill food store A Southern Season, a destination for its Carolinas specialty foods, cooking school, wine department and restaurant, announced a major expansion Friday, with the first new store opening this summer in Charleston and a Charlotte location expected in late 2014 or early 2015.
“Charlotte would be great for us,” said W. Clay Hamner, chairman of Carrboro Capital and TC Capital, which owns the store. He confirmed the company is looking at sites in either Myers Park or SouthPark.
“We’re working very hard at it.”
The Charleston location, which would be in Mount Pleasant’s Brookgreen Town Center on Coleman Boulevard, is expected to open this summer in a 44,000-square-foot building, just a little smaller than the original store’s 60,000 square feet.
This is the first time the store has expanded beyond Chapel Hill. Store founder Michael Barefoot, who sold the company in 2011, didn’t want more than one store, Hamner said. “Michael was very creative, but he was very happy with one.”
Hamner says the expansion will eventually include stores in Richmond, Va., Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., Palm Beach, Fla., and Naples, Fla., as well as Charlotte and Charleston.
“It’s not a 200-store chain, but it could be a 20-store chain,” he said. All of those stores will include the store’s focus on cooking schools that bring in nationally known cookbook authors, as well as on-site restaurants, cookware, wine and gourmet foods.
Hamner said they’ll all keep the store’s focus on local products with a Southern twist. The company carries many small, Southern food producers.
The Raleigh News & Observer reported last year that the company had $30 million in combined sales, but had experienced slowdowns after 2008. Barefoot sold it to an investment firm led by Hamner, a Chapel Hill entrepreneur, who brought in Larry Shaw as president. Shaw, who had worked at Nordstrom in Chapel Hill, was executive vice president of Vermont Country Store when its sales expanded from $40 million to $100 million. He also had been a consultant for Eddie Bauer, J.Jill and Green Mountain Coffee.
Changes since then have included improvements to the website and the layout of the Chapel Hill store, as well as a planned expansion.
Charlotte was going to be the first new store, Hamner said, but the company has had a hard time finding a suitable spot. He doesn’t want a two-level store and he wants parking that doesn’t include a parking deck. Sites like that are difficult to find here, he said.
“Publix and Harris Teeter are busy buying everything in sight.”
When he makes a planned visit to tour Charlotte real estate next week, Hamner will come to a market that recently added a large location for Whole Foods and has multiple locations of the specialty food store Trader Joe’s.
A Southern Season and Reid’s Fine Foods on Selwyn Avenue carry many of the same products, and both have prepared foods, gourmet meats and cooking classes. But the Reid’s location is much smaller.
If a Charlotte store had a cooking school, as Hamner says it would, it would be a consolation for fans of Sur La Table, which has cooking schools at many of its stores but didn’t include one when it opened in SouthPark.
“We’re an entertainment education experience,” Hamner said. “A cooking school is crucial.”
A Southern Season opened in Chapel Hill in 1975 and has developed a national reputation, as a spot for touring chefs and authors and also for its mail order and gift basket division and its restaurant. The Weathervane’s executive chef Ryan Payne won best chef in the state in this year’s “Got to Be N.C.” competition dining series, sponsored by the N.C. Department of Agriculture.