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Indie Closeup: Horse Cents

Resourceful Kentucky retailer parlaying a hard asset into an auxiliary foodservice option
silver streak market
facebook.com/Silver Streak Market

In a textbook example of re-purposing an asset, Silver Streak Market, Lexington, Kentucky, is leveraging one area of expertise—horse training—to enhance its c-store operation.

Owner Debbie Morris and husband co-owner Joe Morris are in the process of converting a “retired” horse trailer to a quasi-food truck, to be positioned outside its 1,200-square-foot unit that also sells unbranded fuel. They’re in the process of receiving the necessary approvals from the Lexington health department.

“The restaurant opens at 10 a.m., so we decided we were missing an opportunity between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. to serve breakfast foods and coffee,” said Morris, who has owned Silver Streak since 2020. People can come inside for these items, but the trailer will serve as more of a quicker grab-and-go option for those pinched for time. “In essence, we’re expanding the restaurant to the outside.”

The couple’s horse trailer was available because Joe Morris has been a reputable horse trainer for years, working at nearby Keeneland Racetrack. The trailer, which can no longer be used for transportation due to its age, will become a legitimate food and beverage entity.

“I’m hoping to go live by November, as we need to weld and paint it, and make it an open-air configuration. The local health department said we need to ensure proper sanitation, which means having hot water running inside to wash hands and utensils,” said Debbie Morris.

Morris will tap into its existing hot water source at the store and have it flow to the trailer. “We have a portable horse washing sink powered by an attached propane tank. Once we show that it checks all the boxes, the local officials will approve it,” she said.

The Morris’s expect the trailer to operate only for a few hours a day, before the restaurant opens. “We don’t want to compete with ourselves,” she said.

Small Fish, Big Pond

The trailer re-purposing is just one more example of how resourcefulness is the domain of the independent retailer.

Every edge helps in an ultra-competitive marketplace. The store sells unbranded fuel and is fortunate to have a solid, sustained supply arrangement with Clark Oil, Debbie Morris said. “Clark supplies several major brands and might regard selling us 1,500 gallons every other week [$5,000 per load] as a pain in the neck—it’s one small account. But I think they understand the value of helping out the little guy,” said Morris, who once wrote a column for the Lexington Herald-Leader known as the “Fru-Gal,” dispensing advice to readers on ways to shop on a budget. Morris is a Foxboro, Massachusetts, native who relocated to Kentucky’s horse country several years ago.

With competitors such as Speedway, Shell and Marathon in close proximity, Morris works hard to build and grow a loyal customer base for fuel and more. The store has a single multi-pump dispenser sold from a legacy multipump dispenser (MPD) that only accepts cash while customers can only pay for gas inside.

On the fuel, “I’m the closest station to the Lexington airport, so we get a large number of car rentals filling up,” said Morris, who stands out at the forecourt with a white and black checkerboard canopy design.

On its broad customer service and merchandising vision, Morris is always seeking to surprise and delight. “People always tell us that coming to Silver Streak Market just feels like home,” She said. “We have a little bit of everything—syrups, jams, arts and crafts. It’s kind of a shame there’s not many places between grocery and convenience stores where, when you come inside, the staff makes you feel at home.”

Chef-Inspired Menu

Surprise and delight also comes via the menu: the Silver Streak restaurant offers destination-driven fare prepared by Chef Selvin. A native of Honduras who migrated to New York where he worked developing Italian cuisine recipes, Selvin grows fresh herbs, tomatoes, jalapenos, watermelons and cucumbers in an adjacent garden to be used for recipes.

“We have a big tomato garden behind store as well. Our chef freezes tomatoes to make his own marinara sauce,” Debbie Morris said.

Each day of the week spotlights a different type of cuisine. “We do Italian food every Wednesday,” she said. “I told him we’re eager for him to branch out from his Mexican cuisine roots, and he has. But clearly, our customers love his Latin creations. We recently introduced a new dish called Pupusas; we do Pupusas with shrimp and Pupusas stuffed with beef and cheese and chicken and cheese.”

Practice What’s Preached

Morris is frugal, and she makes it easy for customers to shop without being gouged. “Our prices are fair all the way around, from shampoos and soups to foods and beverages,” said Morris. “Many items are actually cheaper than what people pay at the local Kroger.”

The store’s primary wholesale distributor is Sam’s Club, where Morris buys most inventory at optimal prices. They also have relationships through national suppliers such as McKee Foods/Little Debbie, Frito-Lay and others.

While being a single-store owner has advantages of overall autonomy to do your own thing, it also comes with unanswered challenges. While the fuel supply arrangement with Clark is vital, Morris wishes that other in-store brands stepped up more to facilitate, particularly in emergencies.

One global soft drink brand won’t deliver supply of packaged drinks until Silver Streak Market reaches its allotted supply contract time cycle, which is a couple weeks. “It would be reassuring to know that when we’re in a supply pinch, we can get cans or bottles of soda, but luckily we have Sam’s Club to fill that void.”

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