The Gourmet Shop, located in the heart of Five Points, has been a local staple since 1979. The warm, European-inspired atmosphere has been a family favorite for years. Many customers mention the nice atmosphere when you enter the store.
Danielle Robinson, a long-time resident of Columbia, has been a customer of The Gourmet Shop since 2007 and said the warmth and comfort she feels there is why she likes the cafe.
"I think I just fell in love with the whole concept. This feels so homey in there, all the baskets hanging up and just, everybody always warmly greeting you when you come in. So, it's always really welcoming," Robinson said.
During the pandemic, local restaurants and small businesses across the country have been struggling with unprecedented obstacles. The Gourmet Shop has met the challenge accordingly, adopting Five Points’ face mask policy. Customers and employees are required to wear masks inside the store and while out on the sidewalk.
Owner Amy Beth Franks said part of the challenge with owning a small business during a pandemic was how quickly everything evolved.
"It changed so fast. It seemed like every day for the first couple of weeks, we were learning more about COVID," Franks said.
With the shop's European-style cafe packed tightly with tables and chairs, transitioning to the 50% capacity rule was something of a challenge, according to Franks.
However, The Gourmet Shop's neighbors Good for The Sole Shoes & Accessories and Sunrise Artisan Bath and Body allowed outdoor seating in front of their businesses. This sense of respect for the community is a feeling that translates both between neighboring businesses and within The Gourmet Shop itself.
Despite the recent challenges posed by the public health crisis, Franks said she is committed to The Gourmet Shop and doesn't foresee making any changes in the coming years. Her goal looking forward is to "keep bringing an excellent experience for the people of the city of Columbia and our tourists."
Knowing its customers and their tastes is one factor that keeps customers coming back to The Gourmet Shop time after time. Hannah McGee, a local mother, said she also likes it for the atmosphere.
"They're all culinary artists, whether they work behind the counter or whether they're serving or just food runners," McGee said. "I like the whole experience and, of course, the food. That's what keeps me there."
The "specialty food and wine retail store" and its cafe started as the Saluda Avenue Liquor Store, bought in 1977 by Dennis Hiltner. The French-inspired store was opened in 1979 in response to a South Carolina law that requires wine to be kept separate from hard liquor.
The Gourmet Shop first offered fine wines, imported cheeses and fresh-baked bread to its loyal customers, but it became known for its constantly evolving selections over the years. In 2019, The Gourmet Shop was sold to Franks, the former executive director of the Five Points Association.
In the 1990s, before Starbucks had a cafe business, The Gourmet Shop listened to its customers and bought one of the first coffee bean roasters in Columbia.
The Gourmet Shop has evolved and changed many times over its 41-year history, but it always strives to keep its roots in mind. By listening and adapting to customers' needs, The Gourmet Shop stands out in Five Points as a go-to cafe.