When you step into The Budding Artichoke, you might find yourself suddenly inspired to cook in a brand new way, simply because the ingredients in the store are so enticing. You’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers. You’ll find locally sourced coffee beans, as well as an assortment of jams, jellies, preserves, and homemade pickles. And you’ll find organic snacks and drinks that you won’t be able to resist.
When you go to check out, oftentimes behind the counter along with co-owner and operator, Bela Abreu, is her daughter, Nia. Teaching their kids to operate the cash register and help customers is just another part of being small business owners for The Budding Artichoke’s founders, Jose and Bela Abreu. Given that Jose himself learned the grocery trade working in bodegas with his family, teaching his daughter and son about his business comes naturally.
Because it was at the age of 15 when he was selling to customers out of those bodegas that Jose first discovered his love for the art of grocery store operation, or as he more eloquently describes it: “selling to customers the fuel of life.”
“At that age, I understood that food was the building block of civilization and that by choosing this career, I would serve my community in the field I loved,” Jose explains of his experience in his youth. As far back as Jose can remember, his life and his family’s heritage has been tied in some form or fashion to food.
“My life has always revolved around food,” he says. “Growing up in the coffee lands of the Dominican Republic, I watched my grandparents plant, cultivate, and harvest many of the tropical fruits we consume: coffee, mangos, bananas, oranges, avocados, cacao, passion fruit, guava, soursop, and – my favorite – limoncello.”
After Jose’s family moved from the Dominican Republic to New York City, Jose transitioned from seeing the way food is produced and harvested, to seeing how food is sold and consumed. Eventually, Jose’s journey led him from New York City to High Point back in 2008.
“In the summer of 2008, I came to visit my family in High Point and felt like I was home,” he says. “I went back to New York with my mind set that I was going to make High Point my home. I packed a few belongings and made my way here. In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, I saw an opportunity to solve social issues by providing a good product and service.”
Because it was in High Point that Jose saw firsthand the social issues that are often tied to food. In High Point, Jose’s first grocery store venture was Superior Foods Supermarket, and in his time there, he discovered the complicated – an oftentimes painful – relationship between communities and food.
“After 10 years of owning and managing Superior Foods Supermarket, I saw firsthand how people’s diets were affecting their lives and the overall community health,” Jose explains. “I observed as the industrial agricultural complex was being incentivized to provide the cheapest and lowest quality product – no matter the amount of ecological, economic, and social problems arising from these systems.”
Jose then started thinking about food in a new way. He began to return to his roots: his grandparents’ legacy of planting, growing, and harvesting their own food.
“That was the spark that ignited my interest in creating a change in the food system by opening a small intimate store where I could share small farms’ and producers’ stories about how the items are grown and produced,” Jose says. “I wanted to provide customers with pure and simple products without chemicals, additives, and harmful preservatives. I wanted to highlight the regenerative farms and producers from our state and sustainably source from companies who conduct their business in a triple bottom line mindset.”
After purchasing The Budding Artichoke (formerly located off Sandy Ridge Road), Jose and his wife, Bela began working to turn the store into a one-of-a-kind grocery experience. And by this time, Jose already had years of grocery store ownership and leadership experience.
“In the pursuit of providing the consumer the best, I did every job within the Superior Foods Supermarket,” Jose says. “I did the merchandising, promoting, selling, and bookkeeping in the beginning years of owning the supermarket since I only had four employees. Today I have 15 employees helping me run the supermarket. All the lessons and procedures are now being applied to The Budding Artichoke.”
Jose also notes that part of the learning curve of business ownership in the grocery world is tied to the lesson all good leaders have to learn: you can’t do it all by yourself. Building a team of good people around his businesses and learning how to effectively teach new skills also made Jose’s businesses successful.
He recognizes that it is the support of his community, as well as the learning opportunities he was given, that helped carry him to where he is today.
“My wife Bela and my family have provided emotional support along this journey,” he says. “My mentor and father believed in me enough to give me the opportunity to work to own the supermarket which gave me a base to springboard onto other ventures.”
Today, Jose touches every part of the food chain process from growing the produce, to selling the products, to serving his community by fighting for food security. When he’s not busy working on one of his grocery stores, Jose also runs the Growing High Point Food Hub, manages Twin Oaks Urban Farm, and sits on the board of the Greater High Point Food Alliance and Piedmont Triad Regional Food Council – two non-profits working towards a food secure city and region.
It’s not hard to be impressed with how much the Abreus have already done to impact the complex nature of High Point’s relationship with food, yet Jose’s best secret for being successful in business seems almost too simple: good, old-fashioned resourcefulness.
“Resourcefulness can help overcome a lack in capital to start a business,” Jose explains. “Where there is a will there is a way. Find a community, find what’s missing, and do your best in providing that service or product.”
And that’s exactly what Jose and Bela have done. They have made it their mission to bring a better understanding of food consumption, distribution, and nutrition to their community. As Jose explains, he brings together people of every background, demographic, and socioeconomic level under one great unifier: delicious food.
“As a grocery store, we’re providing the fuel for our community to prosper, and as the saying goes, ‘we are what we eat,’” Jose says. “Food has the magical power to bring people together no matter their social standing. People love good food.”
Keep discovering our High Points,
The HPD Team
Photography by Maria West Photography