A local market recently opened its doors in downtown Memphis, and you’re in for a treat. Grind City Grocer is the newest spot to score tasty goodies, whether you’re stocking your pantry or you’re in the market for gifts. Lisa Ortosecco and her daughter Erin Ortasic are the business-savvy duo behind this new concept centered around locally-produced goods, and they know this city inside and out. Both were raised right here in Memphis, attended college locally, and are deeply involved in the community.
Grind City Grocer began as an online venture in October 2021. As the demand for its sweet and savory offerings grew, Lisa and Erin expanded to a booth space in the Painted Tree Marketplace in the Wolfchase area. In January 2022, Erin reached out to the Downtown Memphis Commission about the city’s Open on Main initiative, a project that aims to bring life to the long-empty buildings on Main Street. The ladies were accepted into the program, allowing them to open the doors to their brick-and-mortar location on April 5, 2022.
Read on for a Q&A with Lisa and Erin to get to know this exciting new Memphis business and the women behind it!
What inspired the name ‘Grind City Grocer’?
Erin: ‘Grind City Grocer’ comes from the Grizzlies’ slogan ‘Grit and Grind.’ When Lisa and I were bouncing names around, I suggested ‘Grind City Grocer’ because it was catchy and perfectly fit what we were trying to represent. Memphis is the city, but Grind City is the community. We’re here to showcase what makes it unique.
Your business gained momentum extremely quickly! Can you tell us a little bit about your background before this venture?
Lisa: I spent years in sales administration, then took a break and managed a restaurant for about five years. I worked closely with the restaurant’s distributors and was interested in how brands made the leap from the kitchen to store/restaurant shelves. These days, I work with smaller local makers, helping them get from concept to co-packing and distribution.
Erin: In 2016, I left my corporate job to take the administrative assistant position, and eventually the assistant manager position, at the original Curb Market when it first opened. While there were several local makers I already knew personally, I met many, many more during my time there.
Since we were mainly focused on local products, we often rented out the store kitchen to people trying to get started, like Dave Scott from Dave’s Bagels and Franco Contaldo, a local Italian chef. I worked closely with our store manager, Pamela Rains. She’s an absolute cheerleader for Memphis makers, and we still stay in touch.
In 2018, I moved on to jumpstart the local program as a buyer at Doc’s Wine, Spirits, and More in Germantown, taking it from a few products to what became a destination for people seeking everything from Memphis-made snacks to corporate gift baskets. We were the only place in the area to have a larger-than-average selection of locally sourced goods, and I focused on bringing in established brands and up-and-coming ones that needed shelf space.
Where did the idea to open your own food-related business originate?
Erin: While many local creators were able to withstand 2020 through 2021, many were not and had to shut down. Those years opened my eyes to a roadblock to accessibility, from the creators to the customers. When the markets are closed, and people aren’t able to go to a store, how do you make it work?
I had the idea of gathering as many locals as possible in one spot, all for direct-to-customer shipping. People could purchase for themselves if they weren’t comfortable with store crowds, or they could ship small brands to their families across the country.
Lisa: Since I work directly with local makers, I’ve always put together gift baskets full of their products for fundraisers — like Merge Memphis’s Winter Festival of Lights, Wine and Dine benefiting Special Olympics, Meat Me In Memphis benefiting the Monogram Loves Kids Foundation, and the Food and Wine Festival, benefiting Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. I love supporting every one of these organizations — we both do — and it gives the products I’ve used in the baskets (my clients) more visibility. When Erin brought up launching a website to spotlight all of the products we work with, I was all for it, especially since creating and shipping both individual and corporate gift baskets is a big part of what we do.
What types of products can shoppers expect to find on the shelves at Grind City Grocer?
Lisa: We have new, unique smaller brands like Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods‘ Bourbon-Soaked Cherries, intoxicating seasoning blends from Bailan Spice, Miss Sandie’s Gluten-Free Cookies, and we have larger, more well-known brands like The Wing Guru, Rendezvous, and Las Delicias, whose chips go great with Arbo’s Cheese Dip.
Locals and tourists alike love that we have chips and dip, drink mixers, cherries, popcorn from Pop’s Kernel, and those amazing cinnamon rolls from Beneva Mayweather Foods! They’re a favorite of locals, and tourists are happy to have something to take back to their hotel room for breakfast.
Do you have any favorite items that you love to have in stock?
Erin: It’s incredibly hard to choose, and I love everything we carry. I like Black Sheep Hot Sauce, Pop’s Kernel Gourmet Popcorn, Lil Bit of Country Chow Chow, Bluff City Toffee, and I couldn’t get through the day without a cup of J. Brooks Colombian coffee.
How do you go about partnering with vendors?
Erin: About 95% of our vendors are from Memphis or the immediate area. We do have some regional products if there’s not a local equivalent and it’s been requested, but they’re always small businesses. In the beginning, most of the products we brought in were businesses that either Lisa or I had worked with before. Beyond that, people reach out to us constantly or recommend someone they know who has a product.
Why was the Downtown Memphis location important to you?
Lisa: It puts us close to Memphis’s tourists, and while driving downtown to shop might be a stretch for folks in other parts of West Tennessee, we ship every day. We also do curbside, offer pre-pack pick-up, and deliver — mostly along the Poplar Corridor, all the way to Piperton. Other stores carry local products.; our locally owned grocery stores have all been really supportive of our local makers. But our concept is the only one of its kind.
What has it been like working together so closely?
Lisa: We love doing things together, and running this business together is a blast! Erin is super-creative and very artsy, and we pride ourselves on being extremely knowledgeable about the products and the makers. Each maker has a story, and we’re here to tell it.
Erin: We’ve worked together on and off in the past on different projects, so it’s not that new for us. Some of Lisa’s clients were makers that I introduced her to at some point and vice versa. Both of our backgrounds are in the same realm but from separate perspectives. Between Lisa’s work on the manufacturer’s end and my work in administration, managing, and front-of-house retail, we were able to see the same issue with distribution and address it from both directions. That’s how Grind City Grocer was conceptualized.
What is it about Memphis that inspires you the most?
Lisa: Its ability to change and grow. The people here are the best on Earth, and as small-town as the city seems sometimes, we are constantly meeting new, energetic, fun people.
Erin: The vibe here is remarkable. Not only do we have a vast number of locally owned small businesses, but Memphis also has a huge population who are excited and eager to support them.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Lisa: A CPA for a business I managed once chided me, “Lisa, stop worrying about the state of your desk. If you’d wanted to be a bookkeeper, you’d be one. Let me do that, and you do what you do best.” I use that all the time when I’m way too worried about something I can’t control.
Erin: Pam Rains used to tell me every day to ‘know everyone’s story.’ Usually, we were talking about vendor backstories, but generally, people are more inclined to listen and absorb when you bring everything down to a personal level.
Thank you, Lisa and Erin! All photos courtesy of Erin Ortasic.
Meet more inspiring Memphis women in our FACES archives!