For 77 years, Roy Pope Grocery has remained a staple in the West Byers neighborhood in Arlington Heights. The little store advertises on its website as having “the cleanest, freshest meats and produce of the highest quality available, from the oldest family grocer in Fort Worth.”
Though former proprietors Bob and Renee Larance closed the near-Camp Bowie Boulevard spot in March because they were ready to retire, its doors will not remain shut for long.
Roger Chieffalo, Mark Harris, Lou Lambert, and Chris Reale began plans for ownership in April and hope to reopen the grocery store in late summer to early fall. The new owners will keep the grocery portion of Roy Pope but plan to place an additional emphasis on prepared food and food cooked to order.
“Restaurants and hospitality have always been my area of expertise,” said Reale, who’s worked as a cook at Lambert’s and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, is a former operator at Campo Smokehouse, and was named one of the Top 10 bartenders in the nation by Groupon in 2016. “I’ve never thought to do anything with grocery, but when me and my partners collaborated, we came up with some really cool ideas. We have a unique spot that has had such a following for so long.”
Aiming for a vibrant environment, Reale wants onlookers to drive by and see activity and people outside.
“I want people to come in for coffee and breakfast tacos in the morning,” he said, “then stop in at lunch for a salad and a glass of wine.”
There will be light seating inside, for approximately 25 to 30, as well as outdoor seating, he said, things that were lacking at the original Roy Pope.
The new Roy Pope will offer various wines that can be purchased for retail and select bottles by the glass for customers who wish to dine in. The grocer also will make wine experts available and serve up potential classes, such as barbecuing and chef dinners, to help people become involved.
After adding some windows, changing the parking layout, and doing a little landscaping, Reale believes people will be really shocked to see the changes that he and his team have made.
With 40 years of chef experience, Lambert, a fixture in Fort Worth’s fine-dining scene, is going to head the culinary program as a liaison. “We’ll collaborate together and create menu and prepared food items,” Reale said.
The Roy Pope tradition will continue upon reopening with the King Ranch Casserole, Reale said. While the menu items aren’t yet finalized, hearing talk of steak nights and chicken al carbon means it’s going to be a fresh, diverse take on the former store.
“It’s all going to be really unique stuff,” Reale said, “but I think it’s going to fit the neighborhood. We’re definitely going to feel out what they want. We’re here for them.”
Reale said he’s curious to see where Texas will be regarding COVID-19 regulations at the time of Roy Pope’s opening.
“We’re lucky to dive into this project,” Reale said. “I’m consulting for restaurants in Fort Worth, trying to implement systems to go along with some of these rules that are being placed on us, and it’s interesting to see how much the dynamic has changed with customers dining in.
“A lot of people would say that this is the worst time to put your heads together and money together and open a business, considering how everything is,” he continued, “but we really stuck to our guns. I feel like this is going to be a new venture of dining that a lot of people are going to start doing, which is a prepared style of food — grab and go.”
Many Fort Worth businesses continue to offer to-go orders and curbside pickup, shifting the service industry out of the dine-in experience.
“I think the way that people dine out is going to change,” Reale said, “even after this is all over. This has opened my eyes to how much to-go food might turn into a thing.”
When asked for advice for entrepreneurs who are in the midst of trying to open their own business, Reale advised, “Stay the course. Stick to your guns. Be open-minded. This is a really fluid time, and you’ve got to be willing to change as [COVID-19] changes, and that can be really difficult for businesses that have been operating one way for so long.”
He encouraged business owners to have “knee-jerk” reactions and be prepared for every day to be different.
Though there is competition between restaurants and other businesses, Reale said they should not be afraid to reach out to each other for help and advice on how they’re handling things.