The first thing you need to know about the City Market Grocery is that it isn’t a grocery at all. That is, it’s not the kind of place you run into for a quart of milk, a loaf of bread and a package of paper towels. You can find that kind of place up East Bay at Harris Teeter or attached to the gas station on Meeting. Inside the iconic Charleston City Market there isn’t much need for a place that sells boxes of Cap’n Crunch, cans of baked beans or packages of American cheese food product. It’s not like anyone lives next door.
The “Grocery” is really a coffee shop and deli, serving made-to-order sandwiches and salads, a wide variety of coffee drinks, pastries and breakfast dishes, and a heaping helping of friendly. Like its cousin on the street outside the City Market, the Market Street Deli, the Grocery is a family-owned and staffed operation. It makes tourists feel like locals and locals feel like part of the Atway family that owns and runs the shop.
Vendors in the market, carriage company workers, local hotel employees and others who spend their days around Market Street patronize the City Market Grocery for an enervating burst of caffeine in the morning and a filling gourmet meal at lunch. If the Atways know you, they squirt a second shot of espresso into your latte for the kick you need to get through the early morning after a late night. Or they make your chicken salad on croissant or bacon, egg and cheese on bagel just the way they know you like it. They don’t need to write your name on the cup of coffee; they know your name and how you take your mocha latte.
Toast in the Renaissance
Maybe you prefer an enervating burst of caffeine around lunchtime and a filling gourmet meal at breakfast. No problem! The City Market Grocery (that’s really a coffee shop and deli) gladly serves you breakfast for lunch, lunch for breakfast or either until closing time. It’s like Stephen Wright’s joke about going to a restaurant that served breakfast anytime: he ordered toast in the Renaissance. Except it’s always a Renaissance in the City Market. City Market Grocery serves breakfast and lunch anytime. Remember when Burger King said you could have it your way? It’s like that at City Market Grocery except with good food.
In fact, City Market Grocery has borrowed a bit from the French Market in New Orleans, offering shrimp-based sandwiches and the famed muffuletta. That’s olive salad with chopped celery, cauliflower and carrot laid on an Italian loaf, topped with salami, ham and a procession of cheeses and seasoned generously with oregano and garlic. Tourists here aren’t in New Orleans, but they are in a low-lying tropical tourist town built on the culinary experience. And they are walking through the arched entrance of a city market, so, close enough. Eating the City Market Grocery’s muffuletta allows them to close their eyes and take a vacation to two different must-see destinations at once.
Raida Atway, her husband and two kids are immigrants from Ohio (but they’re nice) who worked in the food business there and visited Charleston often enough that they were able to buy the Market Street Deli. When Caviar and Bananas hightailed out of the City Market’s newly renovated Great Hall – the part of the market that is air-conditioned. Everyone likes the way the family runs its business (treating people like family) works with employees (as if they were family) and communicates with customers (ditto.)
Grab and Go for a Day of Adventure
For tourists racing from the airport to the beach or the hotel to a scheduled carriage ride, the City Market Grocery is a convenient place to grab and go with sustenance for the day. They can tour one of Charleston’s vaunted sites – the historic market itself – and secure food and drink for the hotspots ahead all at once. It’s just a bonus that the food is “hey, this is good!” homemade quality more associated with a standalone store than the machine gun service often seen in a crowded market.
Pre-Covid, i.e., back when life was normal, thousands of people tromped through the market daily; now the number is limited by the City of Charleston to 83 at a time, not that limits are all that relevant given the tourism crash caused by the virus. It has left the Market Street Grocery, like many businesses, in survival mode hoping to make enough to pay the employees. Raida Atway believes the only good time for layoffs is “never.” If you visit the Market and stop by, you’ll see staff sanitizing regularly, changing their gloves every time they take money or touch a surface and, of course, duly wearing masks. They consider it the least they can do for you. After all, you’re family.
Check Raida’s second business Market Street Deli and Salads, https://letstalkcharleston.com/restaurants/market-street-deli-and-salads/