Restaurants / Openings

Fort Worth’s Legendary Roy Pope Grocery Comes Back to Life — Your Exclusive, First Sneak Preview Inside the Reimagined Staple

78 Years Old and Fresher (and More Foodie Relevant) Than Ever

BY // 04.26.21

Stepping inside Roy Pope Grocery for the first time since the iconic Fort Worth spot closed in April of 2020 is like coming home. It will be for many when the beloved neighborhood grocery and gourmet store reopens in early May at 2300 Merrick Street after a year long renovation and reimagining. Expect a host of upgrades and a brighter, more stylish and updated appearance.

“People want it to be the store they remember, only more relevant to the way they live now,” new owner Lou Lambert tells PaperCity Fort Worth. “We can’t compete with the vast selection of bigger markets, but we can offer the convenience and service of a true neighborhood store. We are trying to listen carefully to our loyal customers, yet fill a hole in the market.

“We wanted to provide a place for the neighborhood to gather.”

The new coffee bar will fill that bill each morning. The wine-by-the-glass program will add that space in the afternoon, with ample seating to relax and enjoy a meal or a snack.

Roy Pope’s legacy dates back to 1943 and generations of locals have relied on its service and selection. That’s why when longtime owners Bob and Renee Larance said goodbye and locked the doors to Roy Pope’s Grocery for good early in the coronavirus pandemic, it left a hole in the hearts of many Fort Worthians who had grown up with it.

The timing of that closure was not COVID-19 related. It had been in the works well before the world shutdown, according to Bob Larance.

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Chef Lou Lambert and Chef Bria Downey ready for Roy Pope’s reopening. (Photo by Courtney Dabney).

Word of Roy Pope Grocery’s rescue and return to glory, by a new ownership team, allowed many to breathe a sigh of relief. An all Fort Worth based team has invested its heart and soul into its revamp. This includes Lambert, the noted chef and restaurateur of Dutch’s Hamburgers among others, owner-operator Chris Reale, real estate broker Rodger Chieffalo and developer Mark Harris.

In another bold stroke, the team quickly tapped Bria Downey to take over as culinary director. She had just become a free agent after leaving Clay Pigeon, where she was executive chef. Downey’s got the goods. She’s a member of a very rare club of Fort Worth chefs to gain the recognition of The James Beard Foundation. Downey was a 2020 semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year.

If you didn’t know Downey was a chef from her food related tattoos, you might guess it because of the leather scabbard she wears on her right hip. That’s where she keeps her handmade chef’s knife, with its mother-of-pearl handle, close at hand.

The grab-and-go beverage case and the new coffee and wine bar take shape. (Photo by Courtney Dabney).

 

The New Roy Pope

This is not your grandfather’s Roy Pope Grocery. This reimagined rebirth brings a full coffee and wine bar. And a covered (dog-friendly) patio for outdoor eating. Downey tells PaperCity Fort Worth that there will be a selection of house-made pastries (she is also a trained pastry chef), as well as breakfast tacos and biscuit sandwiches.

“We have three house coffees from Frame Coffee Co., the Westover which is a breakfast blend, the New Orleans with a little chicory, and a Dark Italian for our espresso drinks,” Downey details.

The dine-in section and coffee bar are painted a forest green lacquer, topped with thick marble counter and outfitted with a shiny new Unic Stella espresso machine. The rest of the space has retained much of the wire rack shelving from the former Roy Pope Grocery. Only now, it’s housed inside minty green wood casings with additional custom display shelving throughout.

Roy Pope’s empty shelves will soon be fully stocked with gourmet goodies. (Photo by Courtney Dabney).

 

 

The fresh new Roy Pope logo, now emblazoned on T-shirts and baseball caps, is a familiar emblem ― a forest green RP wrapped by circular oak leaves. It’s a nod to the River Crest neighborhood and the former logo of River Crest Country Club. New lighting, paint and a deep clean make this revitalized neighborhood grocery appear fresh and modern.

There is a self-serve beverage case as well as grab-and-go meals, a dedicated charcuterie case with pre-sliced and packaged meats, cheeses and trays, and even a soft serve custard machine paired with house-made toppings, including a brandy cherry sauce.

But not to worry. Downey’s keeping many of the most nostalgic recipes for longtime customers to enjoy. There will be staples such as King Ranch chicken, mac & cheese, beef stroganoff, meatloaf, both mayo and mustard-based potato salads, and even the classic ambrosia fruit salad I remember well from childhood.

The meat market is right were it should be and the nostalgic meat case is still in place. (Photo by Courtney Dabney).

You’ll find the right hand wall of the store to be very familiar. That’s still where the original Roy Pope Grocery butcher and meat cases remain, along with a few other original cases filled with hot and cold items.

“We’ve added a few signature salads, soups and hot sandwiches like our Italian on house-made focaccia. There will be grilled chicken and salmon ready in the cold case, and our famous chicken and egg salads will always be on hand,” Downey says. “If you like the brisket, I’ll give you the recipe and point you to the exact seasonings I used, so you can prepare it yourself at home.”

Speaking of brisket, the neighborhood will get a special treat thanks to the combined grilling prowess of Lambert, Reale and Downey and their newest toy ― a custom-made smoker/grill from Millscale in Lockhart, Texas’ barbecue mecca. Expect special steak and barbeque nights in the near future.

When wine was added to the old Roy Pope Grocery, it was a scant selection near the checkout. Now the wine and beer selection takes up about one fourth of the overall footprint of the store. It’s located towards the back. Certified sommelier Mikey Riojas says the store will begin with a selection of more than 150 wines and more than 70 beers, and the collection (which could include upwards of 1600 labels) will just expand from there.

Prepared meals and nostalgic recipes will be on hand soon. (Photo by Courtney Dabney).

The most important aspect of Roy Pope Grocery will not change is its dedication to customer service.

“Most of our staff comes from fine dining backgrounds,” Lambert says. “So excellent customer service is already ingrained in them. We’ll continue to provide the convenience of our House Accounts for regular shoppers and our in-house delivery service will return soon.”

Lambert says Roy Pope’s beefed up rare concierge service will set it apart even further from the traditional grocery store crowd.

“We can pair full meals or catered trays with wines, add in the floral arrangements from our in-house floral department, even take care of lining up a personal chef or staffing for events and gatherings,” he notes. Located near the affluent neighborhoods of Westover, River Crest and Crestwood, the concierge aspect of Roy Pope Grocery has always been its hallmark.

The same development and management team recently took on the revitalization of another Fort Worth institution, Paris Coffee Shop as well. Longtime Paris Coffee owner/operator Mike Smith handed over the keys and the recipes on April 19. Once Roy Pope is officially unveiled and up-and-running, this foodie team will turn its attention to that next project. No changes will be made to Paris Coffee Shop until later this summer.

Roy Pope Grocery is back. And everything seems a little more right in Fort Worth.

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