Every independent natural products retailer has an interesting backstory, but Bryan Tayara’s is especially unique. After culinary school, he followed in his parents’ footsteps and started his own seafood business in his native South Carolina. Soon Tayara began selling his fresh catches in the parking lot of Rosewood Market and Deli in Columbia, South Carolina, and amassed a huge following. Then in June 2015, Rosewood founder Basil Garzia handed Tayara the keys to his store. Now the sole owner of a community market beloved for decades, he is committed to carrying on the store’s legacy while also strengthening the business with his unique personality, enthusiasm and visions for the future.
Your journey to becoming a store owner is far from conventional. What got you here?
Bryan Tayara: Part of my culinary school curriculum was to complete an internship at a restaurant, so I went to Beverly Hills and worked at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. The staff parking lot was several blocks from the restaurant, so every day I’d walk by this store called Whole Foods Market. Back then, I had no idea what it was or what it was about. I’m from a small town in South Carolina, so natural foods hadn’t hit quite yet. I popped into Whole Foods one day and just went down a rabbit hole. I’d always been interested in foods and flavors, so this store was a feast for my eyes—completely different and so exciting. Then I became consumed with studying natural foods. I started walking around other small natural products stores around Los Angeles, reading labels, learning about products and then going home and researching organic, gluten free and so on.
And you took this new knowledge and passion back home with you?
BT: Next, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina, grew my beard down to my belly and became a hippie. I worked at a co-op as the deli coordinator and then started my own seafood company. I’d drive to the coast and look for the best shrimp, oysters, crawfish and everything I could find and buy it straight from the producers.
How did you connect with Rosewood Market?
BT: Out of the blue, Basil called me and said he’d just lost his seafood supplier and asked if I wanted to sell in his parking lot once a week. Soon we bumped that up to twice a week. Over the course of three years, I formed relationships with his regular customers and staff. Then one day, Basil came up to me looking tired. I asked him if he was planning on running his business forever. Oh no, he said, but it’s not officially for sale. I asked if he wanted to sell it to me. A year later, after talking about it a lot, I bought his store.
How has this endeavor been for you—scary, exciting, challenging, fun?
BT: All of the above. It’s been so much fun. The biggest challenge has been that I went from just one employee—me—to having 35, so it’s been a learning experience to navigate everyone’s personalities and keep a cohesive team. This whole thing has been one big—but very fun—learning experience.
Have you changed much about the store since taking over?
BT: Our mission is the same and won’t change. We’re still all about natural foods. But the store hadn’t been updated in a decade, so I’ve revitalized it a lot. I painted the walls, brought in pictures of farmers, expanded our produce. I also go to trade shows, conventions and INFRA group meetings to stay on top of trends, so I’ve brought in a lot of new products. We didn’t even have almond milk! Our deli still really sets us apart. It’s about 90 percent vegetarian, and year after year, we win the award for the best vegetarian menu in Columbia from a local newspaper.
Do you have more changes planned for the future?
BT: I always have ideas! For instance, our store has a porch and I want to put a permanent awning over it so we can host groups and have bands for customers to enjoy. There’s also a lot of competition moving into town, and while I don’t want to open a second full-size store, I’d like to open a smaller satellite location.
Is Basil still involved in the business?
BT: He has a consultant role and owns the building, so he’s my landlord. He’s extremely energetic, so if I want anything fixed, like refrigeration, he is more than happy to do it. He likes poking around the store and fixing things while I take care of the daily operations and staff.
Do you still maintain your seafood business?
BT: I can’t set up outside anymore, but when we buy seafood, we cut it here, vacuum-seal it, label as it our local catch and sell it in the frozen section. It’s exclusive to my store. I can no longer source seafood myself, so I have a retired fisherman who goes down to the coast, gets the report of what’s available and does the footwork. I’ve trained staff members to cut fish, so I can pay attention to the whole store.
You mentioned INFRA. Has membership been helpful to you as a newbie?
BT: The most obvious benefit is cost savings—reduced pricing from UNFI and KeHE. But the main reason I joined was I’m new to this industry and need as many mentors as possible. I always leave this group feeling energized, like I really have a finger on the pulse. Anything I ever have a question about—like if I’m looking for new fixtures or equipment—I have a huge network of stores all over the country eager to tell me what they did, what didn’t work for them and what to look out for.
I’ve also heard you have a local TV gig?
BT: Yeah, once I bought the store, I began putting myself out into the community as much as possible and made friends with a local news anchor. She always had questions about the natural lifestyle, so she asked if I’d come onto her show to do a cooking demo. Once I even administered a neti pot on live TV! This is one of the biggest things that makes our store stick out: You’re probably not going to see someone from Whole Foods on the local 5 o’clock news, but you’ll see that guy from the local natural products store. I can be our own mascot, shout “Here we are!” from the rooftops and become part of our city’s culture. As an independent, you have to be bolder and get yourself in front of as many people as possible. With these segments, I reach 40,000 people within just a few minutes, and the payoff is incredible.
How else do you get involved in the community?
BT: Our street has a crawfish fest, so we cook crawfish gumbo and sell shrimp burgers. It’s huge for the community. We have a farmers market every Friday and offer free yoga. I consider myself a mentor to companies just starting out because I was in their shoes not too long ago. I literally started in the parking lot of this store, so now I want to send the elevator down to others in that position, so to speak.
Do you have any free time? If so, how do you spend it?
BT: I have a good amount of free time. It’s important to be able to delegate the tasks I’m not so great at. I like to travel, eat and go to expos and conventions. I also love yoga. With this work comes a lot of stress and moving parts, so if I can take an hour to recharge my batteries, that is such a great thing. Plus, it allows me to meet customers. All those yogis are gonna come in and buy some almond milk, ya know?
Would you change anything about your life now?
BT: I’m so happy doing what I do. I feel like Willy Wonka.
Rosewood Market details:
Store sizes: 6,000 square feet
Open since: 1973
Address: 2803 Rosewood Drive
Columbia, SC 29205