Tiny Grocer Is South Austin’s New Neighborhood Market Concept
The South Congress shop is a dream come true for Steph Steele—and her new neighbors
By Laurel Miller
Photographs by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Steph Steele is stoked, and her excitement is infectious. Just weeks after seeing her literal dream come true with the March 8 opening of her store, Tiny Grocer, business is strong, and Steele is giddy from the enthusiastic reception. The 1,730-square-foot shop is in the former Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress.
“I’ve had my eye on this space since I moved to Austin in 2008,” Steele says, joking that she used to routinely pester Farm to Market owner Peg McCoy about selling. “It was just the right location. I’ve always loved exploring neighborhood markets, and Peg did such a great job of building a following of loyal customers and serving the neighborhood.”
Steele’s background makes her uniquely prepared to fill McCoy’s shoes. Her résumé spans Austin’s A-list of grocery, design and hospitality companies, starting with 24 years managing Whole Foods stores in the Bay Area and Austin. Steele then became director of operations for the Bunkhouse Group under Liz Lambert, which led to an opportunity to open Swedish Hill bakery for McGuire Moorman Hospitality as its project director and general manager. Steele had planned to buy Farm to Market from McCoy and open Tiny Grocery last year. And then the pandemic hit.
A year later, Steele felt the timing was finally right. After minor renovations (new shelving, polished concrete floors, repainting), she opened the door to McCoy’s former regulars, tourists and wary Austinites venturing out of their neighborhoods for the first time in a year. The refreshed, newly modern space (“I like clean lines and an uncluttered look”) has a tiny deli tucked into the back of the store and a walk-up coffee and pastry window. The baked goods and bread are from Swedish Hill.
“It feels extra special being able to serve the community during COVID,” says Steele, who brought on her former Whole Foods colleague Jason Sprague as a partner. “Grocery is a tough business, with thin margins. I’m stoked this has been so well-received, especially now.”
Tiny Grocer carries an impressive curation of specialty food and apothecary items, as well as natural wines. You might run in needing nothing more than an onion from the modest but pristine produce selection. You’re likely to emerge an hour later with Texas-grown heritage flour from Barton Springs Mill; an array of small-batch bitters, syrups and other bar staples; and handcrafted English chocolate bars enhanced with rye crumbs, milk and sea salt.
The deli makes sandwiches and salads to order and seasonal prepared foods; local delivery is coming soon. Should you require condiments for your homemade meals, Steele also has you covered.
“I love condiments! Right now, I’m into this small-batch, barrel-aged California apple cider vinegar from Little Apple Treats and Haku Sakura cherry blossom shoyu—the flower is actually in the bottle. It’s amazing stuff.”
For Steele, sourcing and testing new products and creating displays is something she’s been doing for decades, but now, she’s calling the shots. “I feel like Whole Foods raised me, and Liz and Larry left their design imprint on me,” she says. “There’s so many great people here, doing great things….Austin is the best thing that ever happened to me.