Taylors native en route to have the 'Black Sheep' of independent food markets
Pat Cheatham does a lot of things differently.
It’s a trait about himself that’s branded in the Black Sheep Market he’ll open this month off Wade Hampton Boulevard.
The market will offer a variety of specialty meats, including fresh cuts of beef, lamb, and pork, produce, seafood, and locally sourced goods from independent food purveyors and artisan craft makers, the store’s website said.
It is located within the Hampton Harbor shopping center, across from Wade Hampton Fire Department.
It’s in an area between Taylors and Greenville where Cheatham grew up, and not far from where the 33-year-old raises white leghorn chickens and Barbados blackbelly sheep on his three-acre mini-farm.
Farming is something you don’t see many young people, particularly young African Americans, doing nowadays, said Cheatham, a first-generation farmer who reflects on growing a garden with his grandfather in his younger years.
His new 2,000-square-foot store is named for his first farm animal - a blackbelly sheep -and the fact that “I’m different.”
His uniqueness may also be reflected in a decision he made leading up to Black Sheep Market.
A husband and a father of two young girls, Cheatham was in a retail management position before deciding to leave it to open the market. He’d worked his way up from a janitor to manager of various departments, with the last seven years as a meat manager.
Having worked with food since the age of 19, he’d not only reached a point where he began to desire some sense of ownership. He also longed to use his talent to do something more for the community.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave him a tipping point.
“Life is too short and too precious,” Cheatham said. “I think the pandemic showed us that so many people had to go to the graveyard, through hard situations, before they ever got to do something that they wanted to do. So for me, the pandemic definitely said, ‘You know what, let’s not wait. Let’s do it and let’s do it now.’”
Cheatham believes the pandemic also helped create a need for his market.
As food items depleted at many major food markets, customers began to flock to independent grocers, he said.
Additionally, the Sav-Mor Food and Dollar, a grocery store near Hampton Harbor that provided a lot of fresh cut meats to the community, permanently closed after an EF-2 tornado hit the Taylors area on April 25, 2020, Fox Carolina reported. Bi-Lo stores have also left the Greenville market.
Cheatham said, still, he could have easily stayed at his retail job for another 14 years and done what’s normal, 'but, I thought, this is different.'”
His customers will also be different. They’ll still have the easy option of going to the nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market or another grocery store near The Black Sheep Market.
But at Black Sheep, “you’re going to get that customer service, you’re going to get cut in-house meat,” Cheatham said. “At a lot of places, it’s (meat) is coming in pre-packed, no butcher onsite or in sight.”
Cheatham’s family is from Greenline-Spartanburg, a historically-Black community about a mile from downtown Greenville, bordered by East North Street, Stone Avenue and Wade Hampton Boulevard.
“We’re like the first generation to grow up outside of Greenline,” Cheatham said. “My father was the last one and he was able to move us out of Greenline into Taylors to try to better us and better our situation.
Cheatham and his brother, Ced Cheatham, had long talked of returning to the area to open businesses. Now the brothers and Pat Cheatham’s wife, Dana, will be operating businesses there within a mile of each other.
Ced Cheatham owns Greenville Game On, on Pleasantburg Drive near Bob Jones University. Dana Cheatham owns The Sweet Life bakery at 27 Rushmore Drive, three minutes away from Hampton Harbor, near Wade Hampton High School, where she and her husband first met.
Pat Cheatham went to college to become a social worker. But he's always loved working with food. That passion includes a love for cooking/grilling and growing vegetables on his farm.
A self-proclaimed “ribeye guy,” Cheatham said, when it comes to meats, “we choose it wisely and we don’t overindulge, we don’t overconsume it, but we do get our portion of protein and our extra helping of vegetables.”
His love for working with food and passion for community involvement are part of the Black Sheep makeup.
“There’s no better way to get involved than putting good food in people’s homes and around the dinner table,” he said.
The store will feature Cheatham’s own brand of prime cuts – fresh farm cut meats delivered to him directly from the processor.
“One of the things I think I can offer the community at a great value is grass-fed, premium, no hormones beef that comes right from the processor right to me,” he said. “I age it here in my walk-in cooler. I’m able to cut it up just like that and it gives the community a good, value product."
The store will also offer seasonal vegetables and give other small farmers another place to sell their wares.
Cheatham said one of his findings as a farmer is that you can’t just walk into any store and sell your vegetables.
One of the stores that opened the door for him to do so – Mini Miracles Farm in Taylors – closed after the owners retired, he said.
“I could do the farmers market (one day a week) and I had a little farm stand in front of my house – it was a stop by and put the money in the box honor system,” he said. “But to be able to get your stuff in the store is key. That’s what every entrepreneur really wants.
“I know what it was like when I was farming and I couldn’t get my zucchini and my squash that I had put my effort and love into, into a store,” he said.
Mini Miracles gave that opportunity to Cheatham. He hopes to partner with other small farmers and other people in the community to offer seasonal vegetables, and to offer space to sell products for entrepreneurs that have a commercially licensed kitchen or a commercial product that’s DHEC approved.
Cheatham said the biggest challenge to opening the store has been lending.
It’s an ingredient missing due to Covid, he said.
“You saw a lot of things close up the lending for us,” he said. “I didn’t qualify for any of the PPE or the SBA stuff just because right now, no one’s guaranteed. Business is not a guarantee at all, but even in the times we’re living in now it’s even harder.”
Cheatham took his playbook from a book he read – The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, a book that talks about starting a business with little or no money.
“When you scrape it up, you’re really getting it together with what resources that we have,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
He did it, he said, with the push of his wife and the backing of his family.
“To make a move like this, you have to have everyone on board,” he said. “My wife is first and foremost, the solid piece to all of this because she gives me the strength."
Physically transforming the retail space from a place used for storage to a specialty market was done with the help of family members, he said. Family will also help staff the store.
But Dana Cheatham was the push her husband to get to the place where he is at this moment – selecting products to sell in his new store.
Five years from now, Cheatham hopes to see his business rising, providing jobs for the community, and branching out.
“I hope in five years I’m trailblazing the path for other people to say ‘I can do that. I can open my own small market and provide these things in the community too," he said. "I want to be the black sheep."