Behind the deal that turned Roy Pope from a dying grocer into a foodie-friendly hotspot
There is a palpable excitement that seems to resonate between the brightly lit aisles of the newly remodeled Roy Pope grocery store.
Customers casually weave their way between the mint green shelves, some with a glass of wine or a latte in hand from the new cafe and wine bar around the corner of the store. Others stand at the kitchen counter ordering lunch for the day, chatting with the person behind the counter. Meanwhile, the store staff smiles behind their masks and casually says “hello”.
It’s a friendly, family-friendly, upscale atmosphere that the West Fort Worth neighborhood has quickly embraced since the store reopened in May. Even owner-operator Chris Reale is surprised at how few, if any, purists have stepped in and turned their noses into the redesigned space.
“I think the neighborhood is ready for a change,” Reale says. “They knew Roy Pope needed help. I think they are happy to see him in this condition.
Maybe a Roy Pope overhaul was what the neighborhood wanted from the start. Just over a year ago, the nearly 80-year-old grocery store was seeing its income drop despite being a legend of the Camp Bowie area. The previous owner, Bob Larance, was forced to close shop in April 2020 and put the space up for sale, which consequently disappointed the West Siders who had grown up going to Roy Pope for chicken fried steaks and a King Ranch casserole dish.
Enter developer Mark Harris and real estate broker Rodger Chieffalo (who also owns the Chieffalo Americana hat store just down the street). When the duo read the sale in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, they decided to jump at the chance right away – initially thinking that, perhaps, the building could be converted into another retail or office space.
But then Chieffalo called in a brother of the TCU fraternity, restaurateur Lou Lambert, who in turn sealed off Reale, and the four got together to chop up the building’s future. The next thing they knew was that they were hatching a plan to save Roy Pope as a Unified Quartet. Harris and Chieffalo would take care of the real estate and development aspects, while Lambert and Reale would take care of food and operations.
“Instead of the landlord-tenant setup, we invested in each other,” says Harris. “We are partners at all levels. I am interested in operations; operations is interested in the building and sees the return from both sides. Whether we like it or not, we are in bed together.
Renovating the old building of approximately 7,200 square feet would prove to be a formidable challenge. The group had to upgrade everything from the plumbing and electrical to the kitchen and of course the general interior design. “It would have been cheaper to build a new building,” says Harris.
But, with the help of designer and builder Jack Sanders, they made it happen. No more cramped, cave-like, old-fashioned interior; now natural light streams through the space through the windows and skylights, while a splash of fresh paint in Roy Pope’s signature forest green brings sophistication to the finishes.
Three grocery aisles run through the center of the store, with the wine and beer inventory now tripled and curated by in-house sommelier Mikey Riojas.
Shoppers can grab wine by the glass as well as coffee in the new coffee and wine bar, where Roy Pope has partnered with Dallas’ Frame Coffee Co. to develop three store-specific blends – Westover, Camp Bowie, and Lou’s. New Orleans Style, which is incorporated into the store’s specialty drink, the Full Speed RPG.
The shelves have a strong emphasis on local products like Crunchy Girl Granola, Happy Tomato, and Blended Family Foods. There is also a significant selection of Blue Bells, as Roy Pope was the first gourmet grocer in Texas to carry the brand.
Despite his size, Roy Pope has no shortage of many commodities and convenience items such as household cleaning supplies, personal care items, and a quaint floral section.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the space, however, is the enlarged kitchen, now about four times the size of its original footprint. Where before the make-to-order station and prepared food counter were smaller, with steam pits from casseroles and the like, Reale says he wanted to incorporate a restaurant feel into the remodel. Today, a central market-style counter features rotating offerings like grilled salmon and flank steak, and Roy Pope promises to continue serving a mix of new dishes alongside old favorites like meatloaf, la King Ranch casserole and ambrosia salad.
Although the store is now open, the team cannot stand up yet. The next historic place they are renovating is the 96-year-old Parisian cafe on Avenue Magnolia. Reale’s mother, Mona Reale Owens, is currently managing the space until renovations begin this summer.
“Everything is going to be new, but the general layout is exactly the same,” Reale says. “We are creating a brand new counter, all new kiosks. The back of the restaurant, this storage area, we’re going to make an enlarged dining room there, now with a small back patio.
Lambert also adds that the renovated Paris will have elements reminiscent of the restaurant’s original location (it opened on Hemphill Street in 1926 before moving to Magnolia in 1974). “We found photos of the original Paris before they moved, so we take a lot of inspiration from the original,” he says.
So, Fort Worthians may have reason to keep expectations high after seeing what has been done to Roy Pope. The goal, Lambert says, is to turn these establishments into experiences – destinations that will attract guests from the immediate vicinity and beyond.
“Our job and what we see is that we attract people from all over town as a destination,” he says. “That was our hope at the start – to build something that everyone feels comfortable in and that they want to experience. The space, the food, the service.
Roy Pope Grocery 2300, rue Merrick, 817.732.2863 roypopegrocery.com