By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – “Radical hospitality” is the order of the day for Rob and Leeann Lesley at the Tupelo Furniture Market this week.
The pair own Romie’s Grocery, which has fed buyers and sellers at the market for about four years. The Romie’s team expands to about 15 people, depending on the needs, and they’ll feed thousands of folks over the next few days.
“We’ve tweaked it over the years,” Leeann Lesley said. “Now, we’ve got a really good system together.”
Her husband said one of those changes was to realize that people have their own ideas about when to eat.
“We’ve learned to roll breakfast over into lunch and to roll lunch over into dinner,” Rob Lesley said. “We just keep it going.”
Mornings start at about 4:30, and work days generally run until 9 p.m. Different sponsors pay for breakfast and dinner, while lunch is when Romie’s Grocery charges individual customers at a stand in Building VI.
The team also travels to different buildings to cater parties, such as the Sparkle and Spirits events scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
“We like a challenge,” Leeann Lesley said. “We feed people all the time.”
But the market requires special planning.
“I’ve got an 18-wheeler in the parking lot filled with food,” Rob Lesley said.
To feed hungry business people from Wednesday to Sunday, he ordered about 7,000 pounds of food. The grocery company provided a refrigerated truck with the order.
“They just dropped it off for us and left it,” Leeann Lesley said. “When you order that many groceries, they will do that for us.”
In addition, Rob Lesley estimated his team brought about 3,000 pounds of food from the restaurant on Jackson Street.
There’s a food preparation room at the market that includes coolers and food warmers, as well as tables.
But it’s not a professional kitchen, so most of the cooking takes place in the parking lot at the catering trailers.
“We’re used to this,” Rob Lesley said. “We cooked for 10,000 people at Ashley Furniture’s company picnic.”
Menus for the next few days will include fried chicken, barbecue, fried catfish, cornbread, country vegetables and all kinds of breakfast fare.
The lunch operation reflects Romie’s Grocery’s usual offerings, country cooking, sandwiches and salads.
They’ll pack up Sunday, and sometime between then and the next market, the pair will think about possible tweaks to their system.
“We keep good notes,” Rob Lesley said, but he said it in a sarcastic way, then admitted, “She keeps good notes.”
“He uses crayons or anything to write with. Sometimes, he’ll rip off a piece of a food box and write a note on that,” Leeann Lesley said. “I keep good notes, but I can’t cook, so it works out.”
But reflection comes later. Until Sunday, the focus is on keeping market-goers well fed.
“We try to be hospitable to people from out of town. You want them to come back,” Leeann Lesley said. “We show a little radical hospitality.”