Kim Hammer is not going to sit down for lunch today.
By Grayson Haver Currin
Photos by Davies Photography
On a bright Thursday afternoon in April, Hammer is a whirlwind of motion and words. She paces around the shelves of her miniature downtown Raleigh grocery store, Raleigh Provisions, three weeks after it has opened. She has two things to do at the moment – eat lunch, which she takes in the form of a few snacks she’s grabbed from the shelves, and order more soap for the store’s constantly evolving stock of supplies made by artisans from across the country (but especially in
Instead, she pauses between those tasks to race around the smartly designed, well-lit space on the ground floor of the new downtown apartment complex, The Edison Lofts, and rave about what she’s doing: Hammer picks up a formidable, fourteen-percent sour ale from the Lake Norman brewery D9 and gushes about how easy it drinks. She talks about local chocolate and honey, lotion and lip balm, eventually disappearing from the storefront and leaving behind a notable void of energy.
A few weeks earlier, not long before Hammer opened Raleigh Provisions, she sat at a rear table in her downtown cocktail-coffee-and-dessert hub, Bittersweet, just two blocks away. She beamed about the possibilities for Raleigh Provisions as she flipped through an immaculate white three-ring binder, stuffed with plastic-sleeved pamphlets from the vendors she was ecstatic to stock – the Durham-based meat vendor Firsthand Foods and the Raleigh-based tomato sauce empire Nellino’s, the playful Dallas snack shop Dude, Sweet Chocolate and the bitters manufacturer Crude, less than a mile across downtown.
“The best part about this is that, nine times out of ten when I’m talking to somebody about an order, I’m talking to the people who made the product,” she says. “It’s a lot different in the bartending business.”
Those personal connections are essential for Hammer, who talks about food the way most people talk about old friends or favorite memories. A Raleigh native raised by an entomologist and a homemaker, she says that the food industry wasn’t in her family history. Still, she relays her mother’s stories about her great-grandmother’s cooking and gardening adventures as if she’s leafing through a family scrapbook. When she moved to New York to attend college, she became a bartender and fell into the city’s food culture, becoming the sort of person who, by her own admission, would rather overspend on an expensive lunch than pay the most basic bills.
“It just felt like I was supposed to be, and I was around a lot of people who were very into food. I was taken to these weird underground restaurants,” she says. “And I was always going for it.”
But Hammer took a circuitous route to get to the food industry and back to Raleigh. In New York, there were stints in fashion and journalism. After returning to Raleigh, she raised two kids before launching Bitty Cakes, a bakery based in her tiny kitchen with “an oven that would behave sometimes.” A friend had pushed her to start a small business, connecting her to the Small Business Administration and encouraging her to overcome her self-doubt.
“I was able to have this home-based business that could wane and grow based on what was happening in my life as a mom, which was huge,” says Hammer. She sold her goods at coffee shops and farmers’ markets, pressing pause when life intervened. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it had I been paying for some huge storefront.”
When the kids both began going to school, Hammer began thinking about next steps. She’d fallen in with a cadre of local food entrepreneurs and friends, all driven by the goal of filling the city with delicious, creative possibilities. That led to Bittersweet, on the ground floor of the PNC Tower, in 2015. She’d often speak to customers who marveled at the variety of food offerings in the Triangle and wanted a place to buy items like Big Spoon’s nut butters or Slingshot’s cold-brew coffee. That, as well as the downtown Raleigh retail success of places such as Deco, became the spark for Raleigh Provisions.
So Raleigh Provisions fills multiple gaps. One, it is a tourist destination of sorts, a place where visitors can stop in and grab local gifts for the return trip, like a downtown depot of the state’s Got to Be NC agricultural initiative. But it is something of a bodega, too, where the city’s swelling downtown population can stop for fresh bagels made at a nearby bakery or mustards and muffins made in North Raleigh. It is, to an extent, a convenience store of luxurious necessities.
But Hammer’s plans for Raleigh Provisions are far more ambitious than a mere foodie boutique. She talks about recipe cards, like instructions for roasting the whole chickens she hopes to soon sell or pasta-making instructions for those on an even more remedial level. Blue Apron-like local meal packs are a possibility. There will be classes in the space’s open rear, as well as demonstrations. Generous samples often grace the counter.
It’s all consistent with one mission for Hammer: she just wants people to fall in love with food and realize the sort of wealth that surrounds them, just as she did.