Opening a new store in his hometown that sells drastically discounted items was not at the top of Tom Brown’s to-do list. That changed with enough persuasion from a landlord looking to fill an empty space on a busy street.
Town Talk Foods is new to Arlington, but not new to Tarrant County — its original location’s address has changed several times, but has remained a fixture in Fort Worth since 1954 and garnered a dedicated following of deal-hunters. Brown opened a second location in Weatherford at 106 College Park Dr. in 2018, and in Arlington last summer at 2320 S. Collins St. The Arlington location had its official grand opening last month, after a year of operations spent largely under capacity and social distancing orders due to the pandemic.
With time and word of mouth, Tom Brown said, the Arlington location could easily become the busiest of the three shops.
“There are still a lot of people who don’t know Town Talk is in Weatherford, Fort Worth or Arlington,” Brown said. “What we’re working on now is just getting the word out and explaining to people what they have access to.”
Items end up on Town Talk’s and other salvage grocers’ shelves for myriad reasons — they may have faulty bar codes or damaged packaging, or the products went out of season or were discontinued. Whatever the case, businesses like Brown’s purchase the products and sell them for a fraction of the original asking price.
Morning shipments to the stores are just as much of a surprise to Brown and his staff as they are to customers, Brown said. Monday’s offerings included $4 packages of pizza rolls, T-bone steaks for $5.99 a pound and blueberries at $1.29 a pack.
Brown said Town Talk is not meant to run conventional grocery stores out of business. Still, he added, swinging by grocers like him can slash money spent on groceries.
“This store can change families’ lives,” Brown said.
Brown offers tours and instructions to first-time shoppers on request, and advises people to head to his store with their grocery lists. While the products change daily, shoppers are likely to find something they need before heading to conventional grocers.
Customers also have some room to haggle, Brown said.
“This is their store,” he added.
Business, food waste impact
Town Talk’s business model, Brown said, is a “win-win” for manufacturers and shoppers.
“We’re able to turn it and save people a ton of money without throwing anything away,” he said.
United States producers, businesses and consumers waste around 40% of all food in the country each year, or 108 billion pounds, according to advocacy group Feeding America. Households in the U.S. spend an average of $4,643 per year, or $387 a month, on groceries, according to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Salvage grocery stores dot neighborhoods throughout the U.S., according to buysalvagefood.com, and Texas is home to four large-scale, small price supermarkets, including Town Talk.
Gary Gluckman, owner of Grocery Clearance Center in Dallas, opened the salvage store in 1993 after emigrating from South Africa. Like Brown, his store has accumulated a devoted fan base of bargain-hunters and expanded his retail space.
“I never let the fact that we’re cheaper than anyone else be a driver of anything other than our model,” Gluckman said. “We still strive to provide excellent service on every level, all the time, irrespective of our pricing.”
Gluckman said outlets like his and Brown’s depend on quality and customer relationships to keep business going.
“We’re small independents. We don’t have deep pockets like larger grocery stores, so we have to be the best we can be every single day and we have to start with our customers,” he said. “I think Tom feels the same way.”