Honor Capital has a vision to someday expand beyond grocery store offerings, perhaps to a concept of pairing a food market with affordable apartments or health-care facilities as a catalyst to revitalize lower socioeconomic communities.
In the near future, the Tulsa-based business is targeting north Tulsa for a community grocery store to open most likely in the first quarter of 2019. With nine Save-A-Lots in six states, the north Tulsa grocery store will be the first under Honor Capital’s own unique banner — a name yet to be determined.
And no matter what Honor Capital’s future may entail, its owners tab Tulsa as an excellent locale from which to cultivate a small business.
Tulsa is a market that aligns with Honor Capital’s mission to solve food deserts on a national scale. The company has experienced business and revitalization success in west Tulsa with a Save-A-Lot (its second store) in the Crystal City Shopping Center, 4229 Southwest Blvd.
Jamie Allen, senior vice president of finance, praised the support of the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation, which made the startup loan to plant Honor Capital’s first grocery store in west Tulsa. A traditional bank won’t make such a risky loan to help a grocer settle into a food desert, he said.
Honor Capital is scouting other potential sites in Tulsa — not just north Tulsa — in which to combat food deserts.
“If you’re creative, (with) TEDC and the city of Tulsa, it’s a fantastic place to be an entrepreneur,” Jamie Allen said, also referencing the resources available from 36 Degrees North, a small business incubator.
He cited the city’s low cost of living as a key factor. The price of electricity here also is “extremely business friendly,” he said, whereas in South Carolina power costs have hampered their ability to grow.
He explained that their operational model leaves a “razor thin” profit margin because establishing success in a food desert is “extremely hard to do,” otherwise 25 million Americans wouldn’t live in one.
Kathy Duck, executive director of small business for the Tulsa Regional Chamber, added that Tulsa is an attractive location because of its short commutes.
Duck emphasized there is a growing number of support resources that are helpful for startups. In addition to TEDC and 36 Degrees North, Duck cited the Tulsa SCORE Chapter and Oklahoma Small Business Development Centers, which provide free expert mentoring and consulting services.
“Tulsa’s received accolades for the support we give our entrepreneurs,” Duck said.
The energy bust beginning in the back half of 2014 created a static small business climate in Tulsa because small businesses are the first to feel the effects of an economic downswing, Duck said.
However, now Tulsa’s small business community is thriving, she said.
“The feeling is very positive, and innovative is the word I’d really use,” Duck said.
Jamie Allen is feeling that good vibe.
He said Tulsans are “very supportive” of veteran-owned businesses like Honor Capital, which was founded by several military veterans.
“If you don’t have the community buy in and participate, it’s really hard to do business in our field,” he said.
The north Tulsa grocery store will be Honor Capital’s first new building, with the other stores occupying vacant spaces that were renovated. Their hope is a location at the Shoppes on Peoria but are set on somewhere in north Tulsa if that spot doesn’t materialize.
Honor Capital independently owns its Save-A-Lot stores, which is the wholesaler.
That won’t be the case in north Tulsa.
Along with its own unique brand, that store will provide more options than the Save-A-Lot location.
“We intend to make that store a full shopping experience,” Jamie Allen said.
Jamie Allen said the 15-year loan Honor Capital received through TEDC was repaid to the city within eight months because they were able to refinance.
The loan was a part of the Community Development Block Grant program, for which the city of Tulsa receives federal allocations that are administered through TEDC. The business is applying for a similar loan to seed the north Tulsa grocery store.Jim Allen, Honor Capital’s president and the father of Jamie Allen, noted that the community and city councilors have made an investment beyond the block grant.
As examples, he pointed to the Route 66 sign that overhangs Southwest Boulevard outside the Crystal City strip mall and the Route 66 PatriotFest just down the road at the Historic Route 66 Village.
He said that in early 2015 there wasn’t much economic activity in that strip mall. Now there are several businesses listed on signage along the road, drawn by Save-A-Lot’s anchor tenancy.
“I kind of get a smile on my face every time I drive up and down (Route 66) now.” Jim Allen said. “It’s the little tiny revitalization steps like that that begin to improve a neighborhood.”