A Closer Look at Your Friendly Neighborhood Grocery Stores

Ready for Checkout

For many of us, one of the most consistent elements of our weekly routine is a trip to the grocery store. Whether we’re armed with a list or just browsing for dinnertime inspiration, our grocery hauls are often what keep our households running. While everyone is familiar with the big chains, locally owned independent grocery stores are a great way to “shop local” not only for specialty items, but for everyday necessities as well. Here, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the area’s independent grocers and what makes them such an important part of the community.

By Anna Hill / Photography by Sarah Unger

Pruett’s Market

Chuck Pruett, Owner

A family business, Pruett’s Market has long been a staple of the Signal Mountain community. Its history stretches all the way back to 1953; at the time, Clyde Pruett was traveling to the Chattanooga Market from North Carolina when his truck broke down. Trying to make the best of the situation, he began selling the produce he had straight from the bed of his truck. This inspired him to open Pruett’s Food Town, which, after several remodels and a changing of the guard from Clyde’s son Charles now to Charles’ son Chuck, would become the Pruett’s Market that we all know today. 

“In 1999, my wife Cathy and I started a company called Greenlife Grocery, which we sold to Whole Foods in 2010,” explains Chuck Pruett, the store’s current owner. “In 2015 when my non-compete was up, we realized we missed the grocery business, and we purchased the Pruett’s on Signal Mountain from my father, who bought it from his father in 1989.” 

Pruett’s offers a unique shopping experience in a variety of ways. Despite the store’s large size, the wood detail of its interior creates a cozy atmosphere, as do the fireplaces on the sheltered porch where customers can sit as they enjoy a coffee, beer, or meal from one of the store’s hot or cold food bars. The store also features a florist station, butcher and deli counters, and an ice cream station. 

Sourcing locally is one of Pruett’s biggest operational priorities. “Produce is an area where we can make a difference,” says Pruett. “There’s nothing like fresh local produce, and by being small, we can place our energy on buying from local farms. There is nothing like having tomatoes picked that morning and delivered to your store by noon.” Shelves stay stocked with local products outside of meat and produce as well; bread from local bakeries, locally made gift items, and snacks, sauces, and spice blends crafted by area entrepreneurs are also on offer. Sourcing with a wide variety of suppliers – including local ones such as Mad Priest Coffee Roasters, Sequatchie Cove Creamery, Signal Mountian Farms, and more – is something that gives Pruett’s a competitive edge over large chain stores. “This approach helps us keep items on shelves when other chain stores can’t, since we don’t rely on one big warehouse,” Pruett explains. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Being able to be involved in making a difference in the community is one of the things I enjoy most about running this store,” he shares.

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Asian Food & Gifts

Paul del Carmen, Owner

If you’re traveling down Hixson Pike, it’s hard to miss the festive, colorful storefront of Asian Food & Gifts of Chattanooga. What you might not know is that this store is not only the largest Asian grocery store in the area, but it was the first one as well. After moving to the United States in the 1970s, Lynn del Carmen found herself missing the traditional flavors and cuisines of her home country but was unable to find the groceries she needed for those dishes. This led her to take matters into her own hands and open up Asian Food & Gifts (AFG) in 1981 in order to provide the city with authentic Asian ingredients and products. 

Today, AFG recently surpassed its 40th anniversary of serving the community and is a third-generation family-owned business. The store is owned and operated by Lynn del Carmen’s son, Paul, and his children, Eliza and Evan, are working to boost AFG’s online presence. Once inside the store, shoppers can find anything from fresh ingredients for a family feast to popular sauces, snacks, and frozen foods. The produce section features exotic fruits and vegetables such as mangosteen, rambutan, lychee, dragonfruit, and cherimoya, and on Thursdays, customers can pick up ready-to-eat banh mis and Asian pastries. 

While AFG is known for its wide selection of Asian groceries, that’s not all that it does. The store hosts an annual Lunar New Year celebration, and recipes featuring Asian ingredients can regularly be found on its social media pages. “While we pride ourselves in providing the best selection of authentic Asian products, our greatest enjoyment comes from connecting with our customers every day. Miss Lynn never forgets a face, and Paul loves to chat with everyone who comes in, whether it be about recipe recommendations or just connecting with a new friend,” shares Eliza. 

Though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing – sourcing and supply chains are even harder when you’re not under the umbrella of a chain – AFG has endured over the years as an important part of the community. “Today, our store has become more than a place to pick up groceries; it is a cultural space where we share our heritage through traditional foods,” Eliza tells us. “Cuisine is deeply intertwined with our culture, and we are grateful for the opportunity to bring a taste of our heritage to Chattanooga.”


Paul del Carmen, owner of Asian Food & Gifts


“Cuisine is deeply intertwined with our culture, and we are grateful for the opportunity to bring a taste of our heritage to Chattanooga.”

– Eliza Del Carmen


Paul del Carmen working the checkout counter at Asian Food & Gifts

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R Market

Zach & Riley McDonald, Founders/Owners

A popular spot for caffeine and conversation, Wired Coffee Bar in Ooltewah can be found with a crowded parking lot on any given morning. However, the locale no longer serves as just a coffee shop; now, when you enter the building and veer toward the back, a threshold opens up to an elegant and meticulously stocked specialty food store called R Market. The market, which opened in the fall of 2021, is bedecked with a charming, curated mix of furniture – including vintage seating and appliances – that crafts a cozy and inviting atmosphere where shoppers can pause for a snack before ringing up their purchases. 

The market was a bit of a passion project for husband and wife team Zach and Riley McDonald, who own and operate the store along with Lisa Goolsby of Wired Coffee Bar. The McDonalds also own Ramblewood, an events and design company based in Chattanooga that specializes in wedding services. However, they were inspired by their love for the community to start another venture with the market. “We love serving food and creating a space for the community to enjoy eating, meeting, and shopping all in one place,” Zach says. “Meeting people and getting to know our community more is such a rewarding part of what we do.” 

While the store stocks specialty grocery items such as baked goods, jams and jellies, dry goods, gluten-free items, and more, it also stocks kitchenware and gift items for customers of all ages. R Market serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays as well as brunch on Sundays for any visitors who want to shop and eat in one stop. “Our take-and-bake meals in the freezer have also become quite popular,” adds Zach. 

As with any new business venture, there has been a learning curve. “There have been a lot of new challenges with opening the market, such as food storage, learning what foods customers want, and finding those brands that are not easily found in your local grocery store,” shares Zach. According to the McDonalds, it’s been a fulfilling experience all the same. “We love serving everyone and look forward to making people a meal,” Zach says. “We love giving the community a space to have get-togethers and visit with out-of-town guests.”  


Carniceria Loa #1

Salvador & Monica Loa, Founders/Owners

Though today you can find Carnicerias Loa all throughout the Chattanooga and North Georgia area, the history of these stores began with an empty plaza unit in Dalton in the mid-90s. Salvador Loa had recently moved from Illinois to Dalton with the goal of owning a home and starting his own business, and he was introduced to Bill Glascock, who gave him a real estate opportunity that would change his life. Glascock proposed that Loa open his own grocery store in the aforementioned empty unit and said to him, “If you make it, pay me rent. If you don’t make it, you don’t pay me rent.” Intrigued, Loa briefly returned to Illinois to learn the ropes from a local grocery store owner, and upon coming home to Dalton, he got to work. 

Carniceria Loa #1 opened in July of 1996 as the first Hispanic meat market in the Dalton area. The store offers a variety of items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods and spices, canned goods and sauces, dishware, prayer candles, and more, but what truly sets the store apart is its meat selection. The heart of the store since its beginning, the butcher counter offers a wide variety of quality cuts of beef and pork, pre-seasoned, ready-to-cook meats, and a range of poultry and fish. “My first butcher, Rodolfo Hernandez, was a big help because he had been a butcher in Mexico,” says Loa. “The two of us processed and prepared the beef and pork, and we cooked carnitas for hours. Sometimes we even slept in the store because we had to stay all night to watch them.”

Carniceria Loa #1 has been open for over 25 years, and Loa and his wife Monica have enjoyed watching a community grow around it. There are now several Carnicerias throughout Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina, and at location #1, the Loas have kept not only loyal employees over the years, but loyal customers as well. “We have gotten to know a lot of families who have been loyal since day one,” says Monica. “Some of their children are now adults, and they continue as our loyal customers too.” 

Salvador, too, is grateful. “I am so thankful for my wife and her support, as well as God and the United States for giving anyone the opportunity to fulfill their dreams,” he tells us. 

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Gaining Ground Grocery

Holly Martin, Founder/Director

An offshoot of the Chattanooga Food Center, Gaining Ground Grocery is unique in that it’s a nonprofit project. The store, which is located in the St. Andrews Center and opened in 2020, strives to increase access to locally sourced food, provide nutrition education, and foster engagement with local and regional agriculture. “The inspiration for the store was in line with our mission to boost accessibility for locally grown food, and the area where Gaining Ground is located has limited fresh food options,” says Holly Martin, the store’s founder and director. “Although starting during a pandemic was tricky, the time seemed right to start the organization’s first major food project.”

As for the store’s stock, it strives to offer local produce in all seasons. Gaining Ground stocks dairy, eggs, and baked goods from local providers, and fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are always top sellers. “Bulk products where you can bring your own container for less waste have been very popular too: dried mango, oats, and nuts are very in-demand items,” explains Martin. “We carry the largest selection of bulk foods in town.” Sourcing items locally can sometimes be a challenge, but Martin feels that bringing local goods and agriculture to people’s tables is more than worth it. 

The scrumptious satisfaction of a local veggie aside, one of the most important goals of Gaining Ground is to strengthen the community. “Our inventory is guided by what our customers request, and we want prices to be affordable to our neighbors,” says Martin. “We also offer EBT customers enhanced buying power by doubling their EBT dollars in the store. We want good food to be accessible to everyone.” Just outside of the shop’s door is a station that houses a free seed library, and rows of cookbooks available to browse sit just beneath it. In the warmer months, a community garden provides visitors with fresh, pick-your-own herbs. 

Though the store has only been in operation for a short time, Martin is thrilled with the strides that it has made. “We are still in a startup phase, but we have received so much positivity from our customers that we plan to keep growing and connecting with our neighbors to make it the best it can be,” she tells us. 


Holly Martin, founder and director of Gaining Ground Grocery holding produce

“We want good food to be accessible to everyone.”

– Holly Martin

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