Old Southeast Market: Bring 'em the goods

St. Pete's Old Southeast Market is becoming a hub for Tampa Bay-made products.

click to enlarge Old Southeast Market owners Jim Nguyen and Tim O'Connell. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
Old Southeast Market owners Jim Nguyen and Tim O'Connell.


The aesthetic of convenience stores often encompasses sprawling shelves of junk food, grubby walls, dim yellow lighting and the astringent nasal burn of cleaning products.

For St. Petersburg's Old Southeast neighborhood, though, this is no longer the picture.

“It’s more of a neighborhood-related store,” says Jim Nguyen, describing his new venture with his best friend since fifth grade, Tim O’Connell.

At 1700 Third St. S., Old Southeast Market is a product of O’Connell’s longtime desire to open a local market in a place he cares about.

“This is a diverse and cool neighborhood,” O’Connell says. After living there for 15 years, he wanted to establish a business that would better reflect that community, as well as the city it’s a part of.

O’Connell and Nguyen were eager to start serving the community. They’ve been open since the beginning of May, before the shelves were fully loaded. Today, Nguyen surmises that they have the largest selection of local vendors per square foot of space in the area, and they can vouch for the quality of all of them.

Staying true to the neighborhood, each employee lives within a 10-block radius of the store. Nguyen and O’Connell still keep convenience in mind, selling lottery tickets and cigarettes in addition to the goods they’re more passionate about. Feedback and changes are welcome, too.

Opening the market didn’t come without without risk for the friends, who both left full-time jobs.

“It’s neat to be a hub for the Saturday Morning Market, a place for the vendors to showcase their products,” O’Connell says. “They work so hard. It’s tough for them to do it all themselves.”

Throughout their stocking process, the pair has come to know the community even better, and the products tell stories of personality and artistry.

Bob Devin Jones, co-founder of The [email protected], has lived in Old Southeast for 18-and-a-half years. He stopped by and chatted awhile after seeing O’Connell working on the market’s property, and ended up dropping off a sample of cookies not long after.

The avid chef and baker founded his cookie-making company, Bobs Cookies, four years ago with friends, and the sweets were a hit, selling fast at the Saturday Morning Market.

“I tend to think that they are the best dessert,” Jones says. “Just good, crispy chocolate and walnut and pecan cookies.” He practiced his recipe for years before ever thinking about mass production.

For now, the one variety is offered at the market, the only place they’re available for purchase. Jones, who says the store will have regional appeal, delivers a fresh batch on his way to work every morning.

click to enlarge A peek inside St. Petersburg's latest locally driven market. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
A peek inside St. Petersburg's latest locally driven market.

Another one of the initial vendors to put faith in the friends’ vision was Illene Sofranko of The Urban Canning Company. She found out about Old Southeast Market while scrolling through her Instagram feed.

O’Connell and Nguyen carry the cannery’s entire line of mustards, pickled vegetables and jams, to name a few. Sofranko, whose family practiced canning for generations, sells her stash at four local markets and about 15 retailers. She’s planning a crowdfunding campaign to help add products, increase quality, hire staff and expand online sales.

She also has a particular appreciation for the duo’s dedication to community; her own journey led her to realize St. Pete was home.

“They couldn’t be any sweeter,” Sofranko says. “There’s nothing like [the market] around here. It will definitely fill a void.”

Inside the store on a Thursday afternoon, Nguyen sits at his laptop. He’s constantly hunting for possible vendors. O’Connell directs suppliers transporting deliveries, and then continues working with new employees.

The space, which took months of labor and remodeling, is clean and simple, with natural light and neatly curated shelves. A whole section of the beer fridge gleams with names from Florida breweries, and a wall in the back is dedicated to succulents from O’Berry’s.

Clocking in seven days a week during the market’s first three months of operation, Nguyen and O’Connell now get one day off a week. Their to-do list remains long and includes filling shelf gaps, launching the deli, and adding seating and bike racks outside. A produce stand is also a possibility.

“We’re a little tired after the long journey, and we’re still learning. Not going to lie,” Nguyen says.

But the friends agree things are coming together.

“We’ve talked to people who have lived here for five to 30 years and never been in here before,” O’Connell says. “People are so happy. The response has been awesome and beyond what we expected.” 

...


VENDOR BREAKDOWN


Baked Goods:
Bobs Cookies, Bread Winners Bakery, GateauOChocolat (cake), The Hole Donuts

Beverages: Buddy Brew Coffee, Mother Kombucha, wine and beer (local and otherwise)

Cans and Jars: The Urban Canning CompanyBrimstone Originals (jelly), Dancing Cats Cafe (nuts), Patty’s Peppers, Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ (pickles), Steve’s Gourmet Olives, Taste of Freedom Farm (honey)

Dairy: Circle 6 Farm & Ranch, Dakin Dairy Farms, The Dancing Goat

Hygiene: Bodhi Basics (soap)

Meat: Locally smoked salmon and mullet

Old Southeast Apparel: Groovy Graphics

Plants: O’Berry’s Succulents