Small Business Spotlight: Delta Grind, Water Valley

Tatums find their way in making ground products, like grits, polenta and corn meal

Becky and John Tatum were working in a restaurant that was due to close when they first heard about an opportunity that interested them.

A friend was ready to retire from a homemade grit-making business that began in 2001, and the Tatums were intrigued by the process and ultimately purchased the business in 2007.

“We clean, separate and grind the corn, bag it up and deliver it ourselves,” Becky Tatum said. “It’s our self-sustaining little business.”

John Tatum is from Cleveland, and Becky Tatum hails from Chattanooga, Tenn., where they both attended high school. After college, they both wound up in Charleston, S.C., working dead-end jobs, Becky Tatum said.

“We needed a change, and John had been away from his family for too long, so we decided to move to be closer to his family,” she said.

After about six months in Oxford, the married-with-two-children couple moved to Water Valley in the late summer of 2003.

“We survived one football season in Oxford,” she said.

So, it’s from Water Valley where Delta Grind is operated, and where the Tatums also own a restaurant called the White Star Kitchen.

“My husband has worked in restaurants for 17 years, and he always says he grew up on his mother’s apron strings. If she was making pancakes or something in the kitchen, he was right there with her.”

Tatum said she has fallen in love with the business because of his passion.

“I’m more organized, and he’s more creative, so we balance each other out – or try to,” she said. “We have two kids, so we’re a little hectic these days.”

And the chaos is just set to begin as Delta Grind’s busiest seasons are in the spring and fall. The couple are trying to slowly expand, and business remains steady after three and a half years of the Tatum ownership.

“We have seen, since the recession, restaurants close or go bankrupt, but we’ve also gained new restaurants, so it’s been pretty steady,” Becky Tatum said.

Delta Grind will also add white corn grown from a farm in Water Valley this year.

“We’ve only done yellow corn in the past, so we’re excited to do something new,” she said.

After the corn is cleaned, it’s fed to a mill, where it’s ground and dumped into a separator, which divides the grits and flour from the trash.

From there, Delta Grind products — grits, polenta, masa and cornmeal — are ready to be bagged and sold.

Delta Grind’s products are sold in restaurants and farmer’s markets in Memphis, in Mississippi at Jackson, Clarksdale and Oxford, Decatur, Ala., and Jacksonville, Fla.

She said Felicia Willett, owner of the Memphis restaurant Felicia Suzanne’s, is a big supporter of the homemade grits.

“I’ll meet people at the farmer’s market who say they’ve heard Felicia rave about our grits,” Tatum said.

And meeting and interacting with customers is the best part of owning Delta Grind, Tatum said.

“We eat our products – we make cornbread everyday – but it is nice to see people who get it and to hear their comments.

“One of our customers is the editor of a magazine, and she calls herself a ‘grits snob;’ and, another man calls me his drug dealer because he has a grits craving and has to get his fix with a bag of our grits. The people are the best part of the business.”

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