L&T Seafood & Meat offers fresh take on meat market
Subheadline: Family enterprise a labor of love for retired grocer
In 1978, the life of 14-year-old Linrod Riley mostly revolved around different places in the city where he was born and raised, and attended church and school.
He lived with his family in a house on Deerfield Road in Hardeeville. Riley bagged groceries and learned about retailing at the Lucky Dollar supermarket, down on the corner of U.S. 17 and Church Rd. Just up the road, across the railroad tracks, he would have his hair cut in a barbershop inside the little building at 357 Church Rd.
“I decided to come back home and have a business,” Riley said recently, now 52 years old and standing inside that former barbershop, which he turned into L&T Seafood & Meat.
The store opened last April, weeks after Riley retired from a 35-year career in the grocery business.
Management jobs with BI-LO and Publix took Riley out of Hardeeville – he lived in Estill and then Early Branch – but not far enough away that he stopped visiting. After working his last shift at Publix, where he was the manager of a store’s meat department, Riley thought about a way to reestablish a link to his hometown.
“I wanted to open up something that I was good in – and that is meat and seafood,” he said.
Patel’s Liquor now occupies the old home of the Lucky Dollar supermarket. Riley passes the site of his first workplace every time he comes to unlock the front door of his new one.
“Lucky Dollar is where I picked it up, cutting meat,” he said. “The owner taught me everything.”
L&T Seafood & Meat is a family enterprise. Riley has two sons, Linrod Jr. and Antwan (known as “Twan”), and they are the L and the T in the name of the business. Both men are in their 30s and help their father run the store. Riley’s brother, Thomas, also has experience as a butcher and takes shifts behind the counter.
The shop’s main fixtures are three large refrigerated cases. Two of them are now used for seafood, but Riley has an idea on how future inventories will be chilled inside them.
“Each case is going to have its own thing: fresh meat, luncheon meat and seafood,” he said.
Riley plans to slice bologna, salami, turkey and other items to order, and also begin offering oxtail and smoked meats. He plans to add cuts of beef and pork.
From Wednesday to Saturday, the store opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Riley drives to Savannah or Beaufort to pick up fresh stock.
“You’ve got to be careful with seafood,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you pick the right stuff.”
When he worked for the grocery chains, corporate buyers handled all the procurement and delivery arrangements. At L&T Seafood & Meat, Riley had to make phone calls and warehouse visits before ordering the initial provisions.
“This place was started from the ground up,” he said. “I had to find these suppliers and make sure that everything is fresh.”
The refrigerated cases were located in Atlanta, purchased and trucked to Hardeeville. No, Riley said with a laugh, they were not surplus from a Publix store.
Fresh seafood does not keep for long, and Riley has to balance buying enough supply to satisfy demand but not so much that he has to discard unsold inventory. He has refined his ordering practices over the last few months.
“My best-sellers now are garlic crab, snow crab, whiting fish, corkers and blue crabs,” Riley said.
He makes most of his sales late in the afternoon, when customers returning from work stop to purchase the main ingredients for their dinners.
Most patrons are from the Hardeeville and Ridgeland areas, but some have traveled from greater distances. Riley credits social media for attracting the customers from afar.
“I’ve gotten a few from Hilton Head, which is shocking. I have gotten a few from Bluffton,” he said.
On a recent Saturday morning, about 15 minutes before opening, when one cooler was full of shrimp and crabs and the other would soon be full of fish, Riley was comfortable working alone in his small store. Just as it was 39 years ago, his workaday life was again tied to Hardeeville.
“After I retired, I wanted to do something, or take a chance with myself,” Riley said. “And it’s just been a blessing so far.”