From left: Cullen Potts, Emily Ray-Porter, and Zac Porter of Royal Blue Grocers. Courtesy of Royal Blue Grocery

Business

Meet the Trio Behind Downtown Dallas’ Royal Blue Grocery

It’s more bodega than big-box grocer, but the central business district finally has a food stop.

Royal Blue Grocery might feel unfamiliar to the average downtown denizen. But that’s exactly how Dallas owners and partners Zac Porter, his wife Emily Ray-Porter, and their friend Cullen Potts want it.

Urban residents who meander into Royal Blue’s location at Main and Ervay streets will find fresh produce, artisan foods, prepared meals from the in-house kitchen, and local options, like breakfast tacos from Tacodeli. It feels closer to a dressed-up New York bodega than the big-box grocery stores of suburbia. “East Coast people love it, and they get it the minute they walk in,” Ray-Porter says.

Downtown was ready for Royal Blue. The central business district has seen explosive residential growth in recent years, but it had remained a food desert.  According to Downtown Dallas Inc., 11,000 people live in the city’s urban core. There are more than 8,200 existing residential units downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods, with 3,100 more on the way. The city center’s daytime population is booming, too with about 135,000 people working in the CBD.

Royal Blue offers downtown residents and workers a way to stay in their neighborhood and complete the live-work-play triumvirate so many aim to achieve. “We are all looking for convenience,” Ray-Porter says. “Most people are shopping for one, or two days max, and moms don’t cook as much anymore.”

It all began when Porter approached Royal Blue owners in Austin, who were looking at expansion opportunities in Dallas. As discussion continued, plans took a different turn. “They ended up saying, ‘Why don’t you be our expansion partner? It feels like it’s going to need local hands-on involvement,’” Potts says.

The three partners opened Royal Blue’s first local outpost in Highland Park Village in 2015. Success there led to the new downtown store.

Although the average customer varies by location, the neighborhood ambience remains the same. “We want people to come in and be a part of that store, bring communities together, and we want to bring neighbors together,” Potts says. “That is what the store is all about.”

The three partners had never operated a retail business before. The Porters come from the real estate world and Potts works for his family’s wealth management firm. But they lean on the expertise of their Austin partners and employees and have been quick learners.

Royal Blue is one of the many Austin-based businesses that are flourishing here. But, at the same time, it is a uniquely Dallas experience. Bisou Bisous Patisserie, Joe the Baker, Azucar ice cream, and CocoAndré are some of the local purveyors sold exclusively at Dallas Royal Blue locations. “We have a full-time sommelier on staff, so our wine selection is really good,” Ray-Porter says. “It’s not your average grocery store selection.”

The grocery chain is continuing to grow and will open a third location this spring in Trammell Crow Center on Ross Avenue, with a patio overlooking the Dallas Museum Art. It will mostly cater to the 9-to-5 worker until nearby residential towers are completed. “Part of the fun of it is staying on top of carrying what people want and adjusting things accordingly,” Porter says.

Local ownership is important because it allows Royal Blue to be responsive to its customers. Feedback helps guide what inventory individual stores carry. “What we stock on Main Street is going to be different than what we stock on Ross, and different than Austin, different than Highland Park,” Potts says.

The three partners have no qualms about mixing business with their friendship and marriage. “You always get all this mainstream advice saying, ‘Don’t go into business with your friends or spouses’ and all that,” Porter says. “But that’s exactly what we wanted to do. Wouldn’t it be fun to work with your friends all the time?”

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