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Elizabeth and Maurice Adams Gardner’s Markets:
South Miami, Pinecrest, Brickell Key, Ocean Reef

All in the Family
For almost a century, Gardner’s has been associated with quality and service. Today, the third Gardner generation continues to nurture and anticipate the needs of their clientele.

By Annette Wright


W
hen Gardner’s Market opened its first store in 1912, the fledgling city of Miami contained just over 5,500 residents. Tourism was catching on, thanks to Flagler’s railroad. The city’s first skyscraper, the new five-story Burdine’s department store, opened. Twelfth Street, now Flagler Street, was the address for the city’s leading businesses.

Ninety years and three generations of Gardners later ­ through two world wars, financial crashes, depressions, and hurricanes ­ Gardner’s Market has grown into four successful stores, feeding a city flush with beautiful skyscrapers, with over two million residents.

So, what’s the secret behind a family business remaining a successful family business for nearly a century?

In the beginning

The first store, in downtown Miami, was started by three Gardner brothers, R.C., Levy and Harvey. “It was the supermarket,” says Elizabeth Adams, current COO of Gardner’s and granddaughter of Harvey. “They developed that store into quite a landmark.” The innovative Gardner brothers began a service called “Tip Top Store to Your Door,” where groceries were trucked around to neighborhoods, and women could conveniently purchase their groceries just a few yards from their own doorstep.

As time passed, a second store and warehouse emerged on 36th Street, near what is now Miami International Airport. Around that time, the brothers had a falling out, and the business was divided up. Harvey Gardner ­ Elizabeth’s grandfather ­ took over the 36th Street store which he ran with his two sons, and in the 1950’s purchased the store which still stands on Red Road, in South Miami. They later built a facility on Miller and 92nd Street, which is the actual commissary for Gardner’s Markets’ four stores, in South Miami, Pinecrest, Ocean Reef, and Brickell Key.

When Elizabeth and her husband Maurice Adams took over the operation, fine meats had already been established as the market’s signature item, and the basic necessities of life lined the shelves. But there were no gourmet foods, no imported cheeses, no exotic produce, no deli department, no wines from the around the world. All that was about to change.

From grocery to fine food market

Elizabeth and her husband Maurice were living in Hawaii, Maurice working in the oil industry, Elizabeth as a CPA, when they realized that their jobs kept them apart most of the day. “We wanted to do something we could share and be passionate about together,” says Maurice ­ a West Point College graduate and a Stanford University School of Business graduate who was in the Armed Forces for six years.

A common passion was good food and wine, and the family business beckoned. However, being a woman, Elizabeth, the eldest Gardner child, could not be a serious contender to run the business. Her father and uncle looked more to Maurice as the “man” to run the stores. “I sort of had to come along because I was the Gardner,” Elizabeth joked.

Blond, blue-eyed, and soft-spoken, Elizabeth is the powerhouse who generates ideas and gets a staff of close to 150 people to implement them. With a degree in economics and a love of food and cooking, she has been instrumental in the growth and continued success of Gardner’s in the past 20 years. “If it had been just me running the business, we would have had more grocery store stuff. It turns out that the core of our business is our kitchen, our prepared foods and our deli, all innovations of Elizabeth’s,” claims Maurice proudly. “My job is to make sure she has everything she needs to get the job done.”

A trip to New York, shopping at Balducci’s marketplace, inspired Elizabeth. “This is what people would love. A little bit of turkey cooked by us. They don’t want to cook an entire turkey!” She suddenly knew where she was going. “Being at the front end of the 20 million baby boomers is an advantage,” she explains. “ When something occurs to us, we know that others are having the same thoughts.”

The key to longevity

For the Adams, the key to longevity is innovating, and anticipating the needs of the newer generation. “It’s our job to change, in order to survive. When we came in, we saw that people wanted good, fresh, homemade chicken salad ­ not the stuff made with salad dressing. They wanted a bottle of wine besides Gallo. As we became more sophisticated about food and wine, so did our customers,” explains Maurice, an expert in wines.

One of his innovations was to create a dynamic wine store with wines categorized according to how they drink, not typically by country of origin: “The reds are grouped together as robust, soft, mellow, smoky, or spicy; the whites rich, crisp or sweet.”

 

Quality and service

With over 20,000 different products, Gardner’s not only caters to the needs of the community, but also looks ahead to their future desires. “It’s only been 10 years since we started ‘home-meal replacement’ (prepared foods),” explains Elizabeth. “It’s very difficult for large stores. Only small operations like ours can do it successfully, because the food is so perishable and delicate. And, in order for it to be really good, it has to be extremely fresh,” she continues.

Last Thanksgiving, Gardner’s sold two tons of prepared food ­ not counting 2,000 turkeys. Maurice compared Gardner’s to the Bell & Evans turkeys they sell. “They are all-natural turkeys, but not free-range ­ then they’d be more expensive than gold. They are raised with no antibiotics, no growth hormones, and they have room to move around. That’s a pretty good idea of where we are food-wise,” he explains. Gardner’s mission statement promotes, “Great food, with professional service in a healthy environment, since 1912. The difference being we don’t want to be a hoity-toity gourmet store, but serve just really great food,” says Elizabeth.

According to Maurice, along with the meat department, prepared foods are a big source of revenue for the stores. “But every department is important,” says Maurice. who, as a service to his customers, insists on stocking up with essential groceries. “People are so time-conscious that, although they don’t come to buy their paper towels here, they don’t have time to buy them elsewhere.”

Caring for the Community

As an integral part of the community, Gardner’s concern for the survival of local farmers has led them to hold a Farmer’s Market in their Pinecrest store parking lot - from January through April - where local growers show off their freshly-picked fruit and produce, and families can enjoy cooking demonstrations, and entertainment with clowns, face painting, music and games.

Through the years, the stores’ profits have steadily risen. The South Miami store alone has seen sales grow four times since the Adamses came on. “It’s not a huge money-making business ­ that’s not the nature of the business. That’s not to say we’re not doing well,” claims Elizabeth. “We give our employees a lot of benefits, and most of our income goes back to our ‘business family.’ We just put more value on our personal lives. We don’t have 80-hour work weeks, and neither do our employees. We care about each other and each others’ lives.”

So, what does the future hold? The Adamses’ oldest son recently decided to join the family business. With a fourth generation Gardner on board, it appears that Gardner’s Markets’ future is safe and secure.

 


Annette Wright is assistant editor and a contributing writer of The South Florida Gourmet.

 

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