Construction delays slowed its opening, but the store started welcoming customers two weeks ago, said owner Rodger Turner.
Once in the door, shoppers are greeted with what could be the interior of a barn, but not quite so rustic. Shelves hold bags of gourmet popcorn, bacon and meats smoked on site. Cheeses, jams, jellies, soup mixes and canned soups also fill the store. To the right of the front door, a counter displaying slabs of homemade fudge beckons, and to the left, a wine room awaits those wanting to peruse or even taste some of the 400 different selections lining the walls. Above it all, an antler chandelier hangs from the vaulted, wood ceiling.
From his office off a second-floor balcony, Turner has a view of the front door. He sees people’s reactions as they come in, and he designed the store specifically to awe first-time visitors, Turner said.
“It feels like they’re up in the mountains here,” Turner said. “I want people to come in that door and when they leave, feel glad they came.”
Turner bought Smith Farms in Cullman from the Smith Family in 2001. The store, a fruit stand that also offered country hams, cheese hoops and honey, had been in business since 1950, Turner said.
He was working in trucking at the time, but he looked at the business and thought it was something he could grow, Turner said.
“Two weeks later, I was in the Smith Farm business,” Turner said.
Frank Dalessandro, a long-time friend who Turner described as “part of his brain,” shopped at the Smith Farms in Cullman long before he’d met Turner, he said. Dalessandro, who lives in Georgia, came in the first time as he was passing through Cullman on a business trip. The store became an annual stop for Christmas gifts because of the quality of the food and the atmosphere, Dalessandro said.
“It’s such a unique store,” he said. “It’s entertainment.”
One difference between Smith Farms and chain stores is that the meat offered in the store is all cured and smoked on-site using the same recipe that Smith Farms has used since 1950, Turner said.
The store has a smoker that cooks about 500 pounds of meat at a time and a charcoal smoker that holds about 5 tons, Turner said. The store also makes its own fudge. After Christmas, it will start making pies and in the spring, ice cream, he said.
Turner has big plans and the Heflin store is an integral part of those plans. Turner hopes to franchise Smith Farms stores and the Heflin store’s location on I-20 makes it a good jumping-off point for a distribution center, he said. He’s already bought the property for one, he added. But it all depends on how the Heflin store fares in its location in the city’s retail-oriented improvement district.
“It’s based on how much support we get from this community and surrounding areas,” Turner said.
Smith said the store is already drawing customers from Gadsden, Georgia, Randolph and Clay counties who then shop at other stores in the area.
“We’re very fortunate to have it here,” Smith said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.