Not only has Andy Kemp survived what looked like sure doom for his business, he’s picked up some ideas that he plans to take into the future, he’s been able to keep most of his employees working and he’s helped feed hungry children.
The owner of A&A Produce said when the COVID-19 virus required the closing of area restaurants and bars that he typically sells to, he had $100,000 of perishable inventory in his cooler that he had no idea how he was going to save.
Kemp, who grew up in Conway and still has family here, said he and his wife started brainstorming about what to do with the produce, finally deciding to “just stuff things in a box and sell it for $20.”
In just a few days they were selling boxes with a variety of fruits and vegetables that were in his walk-in cooler.
The second day, through the miracle of Facebook, they sold 400 boxes. The next day they sold 1,000 boxes at his shop and things weren’t slowing down.
“We had kids there working, and I mean people were coming to help me, my employees, we could not pack the boxes fast enough,” he said.
Then his daughter suggested they take a page from Chick-fil-A’s playbook and start taking orders and delivering the boxes to people as they drove up to his business, saving them the effort of getting out of their cars to collect their boxes.
By early the next week, all of his produce had been sold!
“It’s the only revenue stream that we have…we’re going to keep doing these boxes,” he said.
But that wasn’t all; his plan just kept snowballing.
A friend at one of the restaurants he usually supplies asked if he could get about 20 of the boxes to sell at this restaurant. When those were gone, Kemp sent 20 more.
Now he has eight restaurant partners that are selling his produce.
‘It brings foot traffic to their restaurants,” Kemp said.
That’s how he became involved with Chris Snyder, owner of the Crooked Oak Restaurant on Laurel Street in Downtown Conway.
Snyder began taking 10 boxes at a time because that was all he had room for in his restaurant’s cooler. Demand was so high that Kemp brought a refrigerated truck to park in front of the business, so sales could begin at 11 a.m. each day. Snyder’s employees sell the boxes for $20 each until they’re gone. The Downtown Conway site has turned out to be Kemp’s best, selling between 50 and 100 boxes each day, outselling all of the other partners put together.
“Chris has done a phenomenal job up there…” Kemp said.
Snyder said his restaurant is selling the boxes in addition to his regular menu and a new creation he calls a family meal that offers enough food for five. His family meals have included, among other things, chicken bog, pasta with sauce and chicken parmesan, which Snyder says is so popular he just can’t cook enough of it.
Snyder says he’s not always sure about what’s in the vegetable/fruit boxes because it changes everyday. What he does know is it’s helped keep his employees working.
In fact, this new plan has been so popular with customers he’s actually had to hire another cook.
“They’re getting a full meal. They’re getting the produce boxes. They don’t even have to get out of their cars. They call to order and we just hand them the bags…,” he said.
He says curbside is so popular he hopes to continue it after the restaurant closing order is lifted, but he’s not sure exactly how they’ll work it out with the downtown parking spaces that are necessary.
But even this wasn’t the end for Kemp and his business. Some friends began to ask for boxes of the fruit to be delivered to their neighborhoods. Using Facebook, the residents take orders for the boxes and when they have 20 to 30 people who want them, they set a time and off Kemp’s employees go to deliver the food.
He’s not sure the names of all the places they’ve been, but he knows one was along Cates Bay Highway and another was on S.C. 90. They’ve also been to the Dunes Club, Berkshire Forest and more.
At the end of this week they had already sold more than 4,700 boxes in the communities alone.
“I bet we’ve sold over 10,000 boxes in the last month, probably more than that,” he said.
Kemp initially was forced to furlough some of his employees, but with these sales and the help of a Paycheck Protection Program loan he’s brought many of them back.
And now he’s sharing his good fortune with the community through donations to Help4Kids.
He initially promised Snyder a $1 discount on his produce for every box he sold.
“He’s going to have produce free for the next year,” Kemp laughed, adding that Snyder is now passing his dollar credit on to Help4Kids.
Kemp is also donating produce to Help4Kids. Originally, he sent presorted boxes, but then changed to a larger quantity that he estimates had about 1,000 apples, 880 oranges and 5,000 pounds of potatoes. Charity volunteers are distributing it accordingly, he said.
His presorted boxes offer a random assortment. They feature different combinations of potatoes, onions, some sort of melons, honeydew, cantaloupes or pineapples, tomatoes, strawberries, celery, three or four apples, three or four oranges, three pears, a handful of beans. Sometimes they even have asparagus or Brussels sprouts.
Kemp is determined to please his customers. Out of 10,000 boxes, he’s heard from four or five who weren’t completely satisfied with what they received or the condition of some of the produce.
“If they ain’t happy with the box or there’s rotten stuff in it, we’ll fix it,” he said. “That’s kind of been our motto since we’ve been in business…We got to fix it and that’s what we do.”
And the miracles just keep coming.
At one point, Kemp said, he had a truck filled with produce that had been traveling about five days coming from California headed to his business, but when the truck was about 30 miles outside of Columbia he realized that due to some kind of snafu he desperately needed 5,000 boxes.
So he called Corrugated Containers in Columbia where he learned that they had 5,000 boxes that would work for him. He called the truck driver, who swung by the Columbia company, picked up the boxes and kept going without heading out of his way.
“I called and I said, ‘Man, this is a long shot’…He shouldn’t have had them in stock, but he did.”
When another friend asked if they could hold a hamburger and hot dot giveaway at the friend’s business, Kemp was onboard. He provided fruit and they planned to hand out about 300 meals. But, Kemp said the result was somewhat disappointing. They gave out 50 meals and gave the remaining 250 to Help4Kids.
Now, Snyder wants to try the giveaway in Conway where they both think it will be much more successful.
Snyder says they plan to cook 300 hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill outside of his restaurant Wednesday. They’ll put them in bags with the fruit and give them to whoever drives up asking for one between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
According to HTC partner spokesperson Leslie Causey, the free food is aimed at first responders.
“It’ll be outside. They’ll just have to pull their car up. We’ll have bags ready and off they go,” Snyder said.
This will be in addition to his regular lunch menu.
“We’re just kind of the wheels to take the donations from point A to B,” Kemp said.
Causey says that Wednesday’s giveaway is part of a much larger community initiative by HTC to connect people in the community, spread good news and support local businesses.
A few of the company’s donations have included produce to CAP in Conway and Helping Hands in Longs with the A&A partnership, a large Help4Kids donation with Carolina Food Service and A&A partnership and this past week’s Socastee cookout with the Sandlapper Grill and A&A partnership, according to Causey.
“We’re trying to do something good. That’s all we are really trying to do, and there is a lot of good to be done,” Kemp said.
Kemp says he’s making about the same margin on his sales that he’s used to, but his sales, of course, are down.
“I don’t know how we’ve done it, but we’ve done it. It ain’t over, but we’re swimming. We’re paddling as hard as we can. You just got to go with it,” he said.
Kemp says the past few weeks have been an eye-opener for him.
“We’re able to keep the lights on,” he said. “Ain’t nobody getting rich off it…but it’s been decent enough. It’s kept us open for the last six weeks.”
Although his goal from the beginning was just to survive, he said, it’s developed into something that’s going to be long standing, a whole new revenue stream for him.
Kemp says he doesn’t know why things have been working well for his company, but said he’s always tried to go good and not do anything wrong.
“I don’t quit,” he said. “I don’t believe in losing.”