Upscale boutique grocer Royal Blue Grocery has targeted another inner-city hipster neighborhood for its newest store: Oak Cliff.
The Austin-born supermarket chain has applied for a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for a store to open at 634 W. Davis St., in the space previously occupied by Bolsa Mercado, which closed in August 2017.
Royal Blue owner Zac Porter says it's still early in the process and that there are hurdles to be crossed with the city, but that he's always been a big fan of Oak Cliff.
"We love Oak Cliff and Bishop Arts!" he says. "My business partner's parents and my mom grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from Sunset High School, so it feels really good to return with a store where our families have roots."
"We're still working with the City but are optimistic we'll be able to move forward with this project real soon," he says.
Royal Blue was founded in Austin in 2006 as a compact urban market, to fill the "bodega" need for in-town shoppers. It occupies a unique niche, combining elements of gourmet shop, convenience store, regular grocery, and cafe.
They're an urban shopper's dream. They do many pre-prepared to-go items, making them faster than a sandwich shop. The menu includes salads, breakfast tacos, cold sandwiches like the muffuletta, hot sandwiches heated on a panini press, and pizza by the slice.
They also stock Dallas items, such as breads by Empire Baking and pastries from Bisous Bisous.
They've similarly filled an urban niche in Dallas by opening in downtown Dallas' Central Business District, where it opened a location in the Mercantile building in July 2018.
There are currently six locations in downtown Austin and two in Dallas — the Mercantile location and the original Dallas store, which opened in Highland Park Village in 2015. Another is slated to open at the Trammell Crow building in 2019.
Each Royal Blue is different from the next, tailored specifically for the neighborhood it serves, and the people who frequent it every day. Royal Blue offers a little bit of everything, from Stumptown coffee and freshly prepared grab-and-go offerings, to conventional grocery and convenience items, and locally sourced products from a long list of unique brands and producers.
David Spence, founder of Good Space, the location's benevolent landlord, says that Royal Blue, with its hybrid personality of market plus coffee and wine bar, makes good use of what is an unusual space.
"That building at 634 W. Davis was originally a body shop, with the original 2,500-square-foot 1920s building in front and a 1,500-square-foot metal shed in back," Spence says. "Bolsa converted the building in the rear into a big catering kitchen, we both spent a lot of money putting that kitchen in. The ideal occupant was someone who needed a large kitchen — too large for your typical restaurant."
Spence says he's always pleased when a tenant brings something new to the area, but more than that, he's gratified that someone sees the promise of the neighborhood.
"I think that's the bigger story," he says. "That we have somebody whose first location was Highland Park Village, their second location is across from Neiman Marcus downtown, their third location will be in the newly renovated Trammell Crow building, and their fourth location is ... Oak Cliff?"
"They're not coming down here because Oak Cliff needs croissants," he says. "It is a statement that folks who have done business in those markets are wanting to invest pretty significantly in Oak Cliff."