How an Oak Cliff retailer accidentally entered the fight against food waste
Gary Gluckman didn’t set out to aid the epidemic of food waste in America when he opened Grocery Clearance Center in 1993.
“I didn’t have any epiphany about it, but it’s definitely an added bonus,” he says.
“It wasn’t the intent, but I feel good about it now.”
Grocery Clearance Center, on Cockrell Hill at Kiest, is a licensed grocery salvage store. They buy and resell food that is out-of-date or nearing the expiration date.
Americans waste some 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food every year, according to the nonprofit Feeding America. As much as 20 percent of waste in Dallas’ McCommas Bluff Landfill comes from wasted food. That’s while more than 850,000 people in North Texas, including 350,000 children, experience food insecurity every day. Plus all of that wasted food creates wasted energy when it’s transported from farms and factories at a cost of billions of dollars a year, all to be thrown in the landfills.
Manufacturers do their part to contribute to this problem by stamping products with “sell by” dates. The USDA says “sell by” dates refer to peak flavor quality and not to when food is no longer safe to eat.
France last year made it illegal for grocers to throw away edible food. So major grocery retailers there have begun selling salvage groceries as a matter of course.
Salvage groceries had been predicted several years ago to become a trend in America, too. So far, not much has come of that prediction.
But Grocery Clearance Center is ahead of the curve.
Gluckman emigrated from South Africa in the early ’90s, and he went to work for a salvage retailer in Houston. Having come for the American dream, he brought the idea to Oak Cliff, opening his original store on South Tyler. The store moved to Cockrell Hill Road in 2007.
Trucks pull up bringing groceries from major retail chains — they’re not allowed to say which ones — every day. Much of it is high-end or trendy stuff, such as kefir yogurt drinks, organic snacks or gluten-free cake mixes that sell at a fraction of the retail price. But you never know what you might find there.
It’s like the T.J. Maxx of grocery stores.
Gluckman added a walk-in cooler a couple of years ago, and it’s stocked with produce, usually organic, plus cheeses, milks, butter, deli meats, eggs and whatever else has arrived. The store posts new stock to its social media channels several times a week.
There are people who take the bus or walk to the Grocery Clearance Center, and there is one customer who arrives in a Bentley, Gluckman says.
“We have caterers who shop here,” he says. “Doctors, lawyers, the cross-section of customers is amazing. The one thing they all have in common is they’re smart.”
Gluckman has been in business long enough that he now gets to meet the grandchildren of his early customers. There are some who come once or even twice a day, as inventory constantly changes. Loyal customers abound.
Sharon Gilbert does all of the hiring for the store, which has about 20 employees. She’s worked there 14 years.
“Nobody ever quits, which is wonderful,” she says.
Gluckman says he trains employees to do the job and think for themselves, to take ownership.
“We try to do the right thing all the time,” he says. “We don’t take customer loyalty lightly.”