Three generations of the Brown family have worked tirelessly to provide the finest meats, produce, and seafood in Woodruff for over 60 years.
The tradition of working the grocery business was started by the family patriarch, Ray Niles Brown. He opened his first store, known simply as Brown’s Grocery, just outside of Woodruff in 1963. The small store saw large success, attributed to the hard-work of Ray and his wife Edna, and their formula of focusing on seafood, produce, and meats. Despite having no high school education, Rays determined spirit and unwavering work ethic propelled the humble store, built out of wood with sawdust floors, to become one of the most prosperous markets of its time.
From those humble beginnings, Ray created a legacy of successful small businesses in our area. His other business ventures have included vermiculite, gravel, grading, commercial real estate, land development, and a restaurant. Even now at age 81, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. “I have no intention to ever retire” Ray asserted, pointing out that he still “drives as far as Hendersonville and Clemson” to look for the best quality produce for his customers. Ray sums up his continued success with two simple words, “hard work.”
Rays’ son Ray Niles Brown Jr, known as Niles, started helping out in the family store as a kid. “I started working when I was about 6 years old, daddy didn’t waste any time teaching me how to shuck corn, shell peas, and clean up the market,” he recalled. As a kid, Niles wasn’t sure he would stay in the grocery business but said he ended up “falling in love with the business, and with being around people,” which lead him to continue working in the industry for over 50 years.
Niles attributes the Browns’ achievements to the special attention they pay to their customers. “The most important thing you can do in business is to learn how to listen,” he stated, “so that you can learn from your customers, learn from your employees, and use that to make your business better and keep growing.”
“Getting to meet new people, getting to know people and their family’s, that’s what our store is about” – Niles Brown
He also credits the personal touch that you get when shopping at the store for their success. “Sometimes when you shop at a chain store, you’re just an order going through, but when you shop at our store, someone will speak to you, likely know your name, ask about your family, and try to do their best to help you find what you need,” Niles said.
When he’s not working, Niles jokes that he’s “sleeping” adding that “it’s the only thing I have time for after working 12 or 14 hours a day.”
While all four of Niles children have helped out at the family businesses in the past, his eldest child daughter Leslie Cash, left a job teaching and counseling at Duncan Elementary School to partner with her father and grandfather when the Country Meat Center opened in Woodruff in October of 2018. Her primary roles at Country Meat Center are in accounting, human resources, and advertising, but that doesn’t stop her from restocking, assisting customers, and bagging groceries when it’s needed.
As a child Leslie aspired to be a broadcast journalist, and though the grocery business may be a long way from it, her role in advertising in the business has allowed her to do some of the things she dreamt of as a kid, like appearing in commercials on TV and the radio.
Like Niles, she is proud to both walk in her father’s footsteps and to serve the community. “I hope to be able to give as much back to the community as my father has,” Leslie said, adding “I love working with my dad and it’s been a joy to have this time to spend together.”
“We appreciate the support of the Woodruff community and all they have given to our family and We hope to give all that we can back to them as well” – Leslie Cash
Her take on what makes the business successful isn’t far off from her father’s, stating that “what makes our store special is that we genuinely want to get to know our customers, talk to them, and care about their shopping experience” in order to provide them the best products at the best prices. In short, she credits the family’s “friendliness, and quality of our products” for their achievements.
As the youngest of the family partners in the Country Meat Center, Leslie knows how to balance being modern and progressive while still maintaining the values and traditions that have brought them to this point. Her advice to other young entrepreneurs is to “be confident, strong and passionate about what you are doing. Be knowledgeable about what you do, and be smart. Put people first, including your employees. Treat them with respect and as your equal.” That philosophy is plainly evident in the culture at Country Meat Center.
When it comes to family dynamics, Leslie points out that each family member brings “something totally different to the table. We all have different skillsets and backgrounds, and it makes a great combination.” Just like her father, she hopes her own children will want to join the business one day, so it can stay in the family indefinitely, but that’s a choice she intends to let them make on their own.
When she’s not working, Leslie’s number one priority is spending time with her family, specifically with her children, attending baseball and soccer games, gymnastics events, watching movies and shopping.
Everywhere you look in Country Meat Center, you find happy employees. The word you hear most often amongst the crew is “team.” Each of the 22 employees has a sense of being part of a unit that works together to make the store the best it can be. “My favorite thing about working here is that we all work as a team, we all work together, and we have a fantastic leader in Mr. [Niles] Brown” said employee Brittany Simmons, who has worked at Country Meat Center since it opened.
The store is full of happy customers too, many of whom are known by name. The concept of being one big team doesn’t just apply to the staff, patrons of the Country Meat Center also feel like part of the family. Many customers call the experience of shopping at the store “old school”, meaning they can talk to the staff, have butchers cut their meat to order, and get to know the owners.
Customer Elizabeth Keesler has been shopping with the Brown family for a decade and likes the “wonderful meat and seafood department” the most. “They also do a great job of keeping up with the seasonal produce like pumpkins, apples, and collards, and I come here particularly for that reason,” she said.
With plans already underway to expand the size of the store and add a deli, the Brown family strives to continue to serve the community of Woodruff with the finest meats, produce and seafood in a small-town family atmosphere for many generations to come.
The Country Meat Center is located in north Woodruff at 10297 HWY 221 Woodruff, SC 29388. They are open Monday thru Saturday from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm. You should visit them in-store or check out their Facebook page or website for more information.