Celebrity-backed restaurants are quite the thing in New York and L.A. — but just a wee bit self-indulgent, don’t you think? Wendell Pierce might change the trend with what could be the first celebrity supermarket.
The actor, beloved around here for his role as Baltimore Detective Bunk Moreland on “The Wire,” is in negotiations to open four grocery stores in low-income parts of his native New Orleans.
It’s an unusually hands-on form of celebvocacy — inspired in part, Pierce said, by Michelle Obama’s initiative to bring more supermarkets to “food deserts,” where residents lack easy access to fresh produce and meats. Grocers have historically been reluctant to open locations in poor neighborhoods, citing problems with crime and transportation.
“This is the call to action that has gone out across the country,” Pierce told our colleague Ylan Q. Mui. “We are not sitting on the sidelines.”
Pierce, who now plays New Orleans trombonist Antoine Batiste in HBO’s “Treme,” earned the nickname “Saint Wendell” in his home town for his help in the post-Katrina rebuilding, particularly in his old neighborhood, Pontchartrain Park.
Now, he said, he’s partnered with childhood pal Troy Henry — a businessman who recently made an unsuccessful bid for New Orleans mayor — and Chicago developer James Hatchett. Their first store is slated to open next spring under the banner Sterling Farms — named for Henry’s dad, who had a pharmacy in the city’s hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward.
Each store will cost about $2 million to build, Pierce said, and create 75 to 150 jobs.
“I know the people in these communities,” he said. “They’re family and friends and neighbors.”
The partners might not stop at four grocery stores. Pierce said he’s fielding interest for more stores in Florida, Tennessee and along the Gulf Coast. But the New Orleans Sterling Farms will have a uniquely Big Easy feel, he said — monthly crawfish boils for the neighbors.