Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery: Greenville, SC
I was raised in Upstate South Carolina, just a few miles from Greenville. My family still lives there, and although I visit as often as my busy schedule permits, it's begun to feel like someone else's city.
Urban development has taken over this place like wildfire — or like kudzu, to use a more regionally familiar term. In the seven simple years since I moved away, Greenville's once-modest historic downtown has boomed with shopping, restaurants, festivals, even a new and (very) popular baseball field modeled after Fenway Park. And this development has sprawled, of course, far beyond the city limits.
Some Upstate locals say it's terrific; others say it's a damn shame. From what I've gathered in conversations with both friends and strangers, it seems that most have welcomed the excitement thus far — so long as their beloved home doesn't get "too big."
Luckily, there are places like Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery, which thrive on the community's adventurous mindset while honoring the local love that made it so special in the first place.
Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery, appropriately located along the bike-friendly Swamp Rabbit Trail, is one of those rare, unwaveringly, indisputably excellent businesses that couldn't be unlikable if it tried.
It all started about five years ago when two friends, Mary Walsh and Jac Oliver, set up shop in part of an abandoned brick building. In those days, they served coffee and baked goods, and offered some produce grown by local farmers. Since then, they've expanded to include a full cafe and in-house bakery, and have doubled the square footage of their market, where they sell everything from fresh flowers and artisanal chocolates to local honey and alcoholic ice cream. (Seriously!)
And because of their community-first approach, they source more than half of their inventory from growers and entrepreneurs within a 150-mile radius. They also recycle and compost, keeping their waste as close to zero as possible.
During my visit, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mary, and I asked her about the store's recent expansion.
"We actually expanded just two days ago. Everything that's now in the grocery area used to be in the cafe, and we were really crammed. So two nights ago, we moved everything over to the new section. Customers, staff, husbands, and wives all came to help."
Mary's recount is stirring, but it doesn't surprise me. There's something very sincere and symbiotic about this place, and it's a feeling you can sense as soon as you step foot onto the property.
For starters, the business shares an address with a local bicycle shop. The two are separated only by a patch of grass and a few picnic tables, and bicyclists meander leisurely from one shop to the other. I also noticed that nearly everyone seemed to be sporting a Swamp Rabbit Cafe t-shirt. Sure, that made it a little tough to distinguish the staff from the customers, but — as proven by Mary's story — I don't think anyone considers that line to be a particularly rigid one.
In addition to the goods mentioned above, the market is also stocked with regionally brewed beer, organic nuts and grains, pasture-raised beef, free-range eggs, hormone-free butter and cream, natural soaps and candles, and more. Customers can also order produce boxes, just 25 bucks a piece, that are filled with seasonal (and often organic) fruits and veggies from local growers.
And lastly — although certainly not least, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe team has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help build a wood-fired pizza oven (with beer taps). It sounds ... delicious. Want to help? Go check out their campaign and video.
I know I say this everywhere I go (that I choose to write about, at least), but I really, really loved this place. I'd also like to extend a hearty thank you to Kristina Hernandez, the Greenville mama who gave it a shout-out recently when I asked for recommendations on Instagram.
I'm a little sad that I don't live close enough to visit the Swamp Rabbit Cafe every day (or make use of the limited-edition pint glass they're selling over on Indiegogo), but I'll certainly make a point to stop in the next time I'm in town.
Hopefully very soon.
Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery
205 Cedar Lane Road
Greenville, SC 29611