Just 15 minutes from one of the busiest intersections in Tallahassee lies Bradley’s Country Store – a place where folks sit on the wooden front porch and talk politics. A place whose interior and exterior are virtually unchanged since 1927, and whose cashier says “Hi, how’re y’all?” to customers walking in.
The drive to Bradley’s Country Store takes you along a winding, rolling road that’s heavily canopied with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. As a result, the strong sunlight filtering through is mottled – a far cry from the heavily trafficked intersection of U.S. 90 and Capital Circle I left just a few minutes before. (If you own a convertible, this is a “top down” journey!)
Bradley’s has long been the place for seasoned homemade sausage and excellent cuts of meat. I first visited about 10 years ago.
Janet Bradley Parker, the proprietress, has been there longer: “Since birth,” she says, sitting in her cluttered office right next to the store. “This place was built by my grandfather. I grew up in the store.” Parker lives across Centerville Road from Bradley’s, in the same home where she was raised.
Her earliest memory of the store is not pleasant: “I remember standing at the front doors with my dad when I was 3, as he was realizing that the store had been burglarized.”
As we talk on a Saturday afternoon, a steady stream of vehicles – cars, pickup trucks, a few bicycles – stop in. Some people stroll the grounds, examining the ancient, rusting four-cylinder engine outside the millhouse. Two men sit on the front porch, lunching on a soda, chips, and a “sausage dog” while discussing the 2016 presidential election. Behind them, a teenage girl types a text message.
Inside, customers queue up at the busy meat counter. Others walk the aisles, deciding which type of grits to buy, or picking a soda from the vintage red-and-white Coca-Cola cooler, or browsing the wide variety of homemade jams and jellies (my favorite: raspberry lime) and other products.
Bradley’s, however, is more than a retail outlet. The sausages and other meats are smoked on-site, in the Ole Smokehouse just behind the store. Cornmeal and grits are ground in the millhouse – officially known as the Grist Mill Shotgun Shed.
A tradition begins at Bradley’s Country Store
L.E. Bradley built the millhouse in 1922. Soon, local farmers and sharecroppers began showing up in horse-drawn wagons to have their own corn custom-ground in the only mill in the area. A tradition quickly developed: Saturdays became “corn-grindin’ day.”
Bradley’s sells a variety of comestibles that are probably not in your local supermarket – among them, liver pudding and hogshead cheese. The smoked sausage is still made from the same natural recipe (black and red pepper, sage, salt, no preservatives) that Grandma Mary Bradley developed in 1910. Back then, she sold what, today, is Bradley’s signature product from her kitchen.
Janet Bradley Parker says the most rewarding part of overseeing her grandfather’s creation is “maintaining the legacy. I’ve watched generations grow up out here. I have customers who came here as children and who are now bringing their own kids.”
“Progress” brings change
“The biggest change has been in our customer base. Thirty years ago, we had a significant number of customers from the small local community who had, since they were children, ‘traded’ with my grandfather and father. Our inventory was household- and grocery-based.
“But as those individuals aged and passed on, the ‘Walmarts’ of the world sprang up, and transportation improved, our clientele changed. We have a large customer base in Tallahassee and surrounding counties, but they are not coming in to buy milk, bread, and other groceries.”
Today, the five top-selling items are homemade sausage (“number one by far,” notes Parker); sausage dogs; coarse-ground grits; bacon; and smoked pork chops.
As I head south on Centerville Road, back to “New Florida” and all the trappings that entails – traffic snarls, strip shopping centers, few trees – I vow that I won’t let 10 years pass before I revisit this slice of Old Florida.
IF YOU GO
Bradley’s Country Store
10655 Centerville Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32309
Open 8:30 am-6 pm, Mon.-Fri.; 8:30 am-5 pm Sat.; 12:30-4:30 pm Sun.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Florida Food & Farm.
J.D. Vivian serves as a writer, editor, and photographer for Florida Food & Farm. He has written, and shot photos for, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, and other publications during his more than four decades in South Florida.