Once upon a time, this city and others like it were replete with individually and family owned establishments. However, America’s mentality of bigger is better birthed the Super Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs of the world. Yet, holding its own after 40 years and counting is Rosewood Market – one of the few small businesses succeeding among the chains.
Rosewood Market had an interesting beginning and has had an equally novel life. As expected with such a long business history, it has endured challenges, survived transitions and undergone transformations. Always at the helm has been Basil Garzia. A second generation Italian on his father’s side, he grew up not in the South, but in a middle-class neighborhood in Latham, NY, a suburb of Albany approximately 150 miles from New York City. Antoinette and Basil, his parents, weathered the Great Depression and taught Basil important lessons about penny-pinching. A favorite dish of Ann’s was homemade pizza, which she made not only for her family, but for neighbors as well. His childhood was built on a foundation of good food, family and frugality.
An organization called VISTA, the predecessor to AmeriCorps, brought Basil to the South in the early 1970s, and he stayed for a job in public relations. Like his mother, he enjoyed cooking for others, and he became known for making a mean hamburger. Soon, the idea for a restaurant began to take shape in his mind.
He became interested in healthy eating – vegetarianism specifically – after someone presented him with the Vegetarian Epicure cookbook as the concept of avoiding animal products was just taking hold around the country. Columbia had no vegetarian restaurants in the early 1970s, and Basil decided he would be the first to open one.
“I thought it would be a unique place to start,” he says. In fact, the former burger maker extraordinaire became a vegetarian for about 10 years. “I thought that vegetarianism was what mankind needed.” He says he has since learned that there are many paths to health.
In 1973, Basil opened a vegetarian restaurant in Rosewood called, fittingly, The Basil Pot. By the early 1980s, he began to recognize that Columbians wanted more options for healthy foods that they could buy and prepare themselves. The Basil Pot naturally widened to include retail items.
In 1983, Basil sold the restaurant to open Rosewood Natural Foods, with help from Elva Stinson, his wife, who Basil avows is the strong, silent partner who keeps him on track, as well as Sara, their daughter. It was important to Basil to keep a community feel while also casting a wider net for products and services. Before long, the building was bursting at its seams with products.
In 1989, Basil purchased a lot at 2803 Rosewood Dr. and built the existing grocery store, deli and café. He liked the fact that behind the property was a thriving neighborhood, and he sought to keep the existing trees and shrubs so that the building would blend with the community. He also decided to rename his business Rosewood Market to encompass its many facets.
Laura Keels lives in Northeast Columbia but shops and eats at Rosewood Market at least once a week on her way to or from her job in the Vista. She’s been patronizing Rosewood for 15 years. “The staff is so friendly. They treat you like family,” she says. “They know your name and remember your favorite foods.”
What has kept many loyal customers is Basil’s philosophy of an active, hands-on approach to wellness. As he learns new information and discovers new products and resources, he passes that knowledge onto his customers and makes new items available for them to try.
Rosewood Market’s primary draw has always been the grocery store. Not only does it supply natural food staples – dry, canned, produce, frozen and dairy – but it also provides selections to meet the changing needs of the American diet: wheat free, gluten free and low carb, for example. Produce is carefully selected daily and is organic and local when possible. It is not just a place where vegetarians can easily meet their dietary needs but also a locale for grass-fed, pasture-raised locally produced meats and free-range chicken and eggs.
The bulk foods business is a huge draw. Large bins house a variety of organic flours, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, cereals, trail mixes and more, allowing customers to take home as much or as little as they like. Rosewood Market has a vitamin and supplement area as well that is staffed with employees who are knowledgeable about the products.
The store started out offering some basic cheeses and now has a plethora of options, including cheese made from cow, sheep and goat milk. In addition to national and imported brands, regional cheeses from South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia are available.
Basil promotes South Carolina-grown products by supporting the Certified South Carolina Grown initiative. Between milk, eggs, meats, produce, grain, rice, honey, coffee, tea and even baked goods, a customer could realistically stock a pantry with everything made, raised or grown in the Palmetto State. “I’ve discovered some real gems over the years,” says Basil.
Even though he lives in the northern part of Columbia, Jacob Huss says, “Bethany, my wife, and I make a purposeful choice to shop at Rosewood Market because it is a small, local shop that supports not just organic food but local farmers in our community.”
He adds, “Once we shopped more frequently, we began finding unique products that we wanted, and when we began building relationships with the staff, we found an eagerness to even order things that we didn’t see on the shelves.”
Because many who are conscientious about healthy eating are also stewards of the environment, it has become increasingly important for Rosewood Market to take steps to minimize its impact on the waste stream in several ways. Newspapers, magazines and office paper are recycled. Glass, metal cans and aluminum are picked up by the City of Columbia for recycling. City Roots, an urban farmer that supplies some produce, composts organic matter from the kitchen and produce department; the deli uses compostable plates, bowls, cups and utensils. A vegetable supplier, as well as Harvest Hope, reuses the waxed boxes in which produce is shipped. Styrofoam and bubble wrap packaging is bagged up and given to a local shipping firm so it can be reused. There is also some recycling of other items, and empty five gallon buckets and wooden vegetable crates are set by the curb for passersby to take.
Also expanded over the years has been the dining experience. Currently, the deli offers daily lunch and dinner specials, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Most recently, breakfast sandwiches have been made available before 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Basil says the deli, according to customers, is unique, consistent and the best food in town. Some of his favorites, which are carryovers from the Basil Pot days, are Russian Vegetable Pie, Vegetable Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan. No longer a strict vegetarian, Basil enjoys mostly vegetables, fish and poultry, but he also enjoys a variety of healthy foods.
Chef Benoit St. Jacques has been with Rosewood Market for more than 20 years. Customer Laura Keels says her favorite meal is Thai Fish Cakes, with peanut sauce over Basmati rice and a salad.
For those who can’t stick around to eat, Rosewood Market has a grab and go case stocked with traditional items, such as chicken salad and wraps, and more distinct items such as the vegan Deviled Tofu Salad. Sauces, dressings and spreads used in the deli are for sale as well, including tamari gravy, dill vinaigrette, spicy chipotle spread, salsa and others.
In order to draw more people to Rosewood Market and provide an opportunity for others to present their homemade and/or homegrown products, Basil hosts an outdoor market on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, year-round, from 4 to 7 p.m. This introduces customers to suppliers of locally grown and raised items, and it gives them a chance to see other handcrafted and body care items that are not sold in the store.
Loyal customers are appreciated and rewarded, not just with a smile and a kind word. Those who sign up for the weekly email newsletter receive notices about specials, events and Rosewood Market’s popular 20 percent off days.
What has been most rewarding to Basil is knowing that Rosewood Market survives despite competition from larger stores. He says, “Having customers who have shopped or eaten with me for the better part of these 40 years is what I find really fulfilling.”
The children of long-time Rosewood Market customers now shop there themselves and bring their own children. They are thrilled that there is still such a thing as a neighborhood business.
As Basil celebrates 40 years of serving the Rosewood and greater Columbia area, he says he’s still passionate about food – and an active, hands-on approach to his community grocery store that promotes wellness.