I’m cheap and I’m proud of it.
It’s not how much money you earn, it’s how much you save. And, honey, I’m a champ.
I know the days my neighborhood supermarket triples coupons.
I know to call Fort Worth Forestry Administration when the trees on my easement need trimming.
I use coupons from my neighborhood newsletter to get my hair cut.
I know which day Ross has its senior-citizen discount. (It’s Tuesday.) I’m not there yet, but I’m planning ahead.
I don’t use any credit card other than Discover because, with that one, I get cash back. I use it everywhere. The grocery store, the post office, the doctor’s office. And, yes, I pay it off every month.
But my biggest secret for saving money? Town Talk.
My parsimonious pals are cringing. Every time I’ve mentioned exposing the salvage grocery in print, they’ve threatened me with body slams.
Despite the fact that Town Talk has been around in one form or another for more than 40 years, it’s barely a blip on most shoppers’ radar screens.
But for those who live for bargains, this cement-floored metal building in east Fort Worth is the Valhalla of value. Nowhere else can you find cans of artichoke hearts for 99 cents, 5-pound bags of frozen hash-browned potatoes for $1.50 and frozen yellowfin tuna for $3 a pound.
“We have the greatest cross section of customers. We’ve got people who walk two miles to come here to shop because they can’t afford to own a car,” says owner Tom Potthoff. “We’ve got people who drive here from Oklahoma and Austin. We’ve got a woman who comes in once a year from Alabama. We’ve got a lot of Armenian Muslims who shop here, and a lot of Mennonites drive up from Johnson County.”
On just about any weekday, cars in the parking lot range from a ’68 Impala to a Jaguar to the west-side Suburban.
Sometimes, there are customers like Arlington residents Sharon Gargano and Julie Reiser, each the mother of six children. Last week, they were packing the trunk with their finds.
A 20-pound box of puff pastry was $2. A 4-pound box of butter was $3.95. A bottle of flavored olive oil was $2. “We cook a lot, and we cook from scratch,” said Reiser. “I can buy one of the big institutional cans of tomato sauce for $1.95 here and make spaghetti sauce. And this puff pastry was only $2. I’ll look in some cookbooks and do something with it. Even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have made up the $2 it costs with what I saved on the oil.
“We shop other stores, too, so we know what this stuff costs.
Shopping here, I can try things I couldn’t afford otherwise.”
Then there are the restaurant owners and caterers (and I recognized you, so don’t duck behind the shelves), buying groceries way under wholesale and charging customers full retail. Is America a great country or what?
Actually, it’s America’s free-enterprise system that allows stores such as Town Talk to exist. That 18-wheeler in the ditch off I-20?
You might see its cargo of peanut butter, marshmallows and canned tuna on Town Talk’s shelves next week. That cute little fancy-food store in Waco? Bad management led to bankruptcy, and the balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil now are on the shelves at this discount store. Those 500 cases of beef fillets that were intended for a major steak chain? They were cut an ounce too small and were refused by the restaurant, and they’re here, too.
Like his groceries, Potthoff came to Town Talk following a circuitous route. A certified registered nurse anesthetist, Potthoff found himself, much to his displeasure, working constantly. His father-in-law, Bill Dafcik, had owned Town Talk restaurant (next door to the Ridglea Theater) since the 1950s. By the time Potthoff was ready to change direction in the 1980s, Town Talk had morphed into a salvage grocery store and had moved to the present location on Beach Street.
Potthoff bought a majority of the Town Talk enterprise and began learning the grocery business from the kitty litter up. When Safeway pulled out of North Texas in 1987, Potthoff had learned enough to see the opportunities ahead.
“I called them and offered to buy the contents of one of their stores,” Potthoff said. “They wouldn’t do that, but they said they’d sell me the contents of 35 stores. ” He and his crew removed the entire inventory from the 35 stores in 31 days.
Potthoff buys his inventory from bankruptcies, insurance claims, factory overruns, discontinued items, promotional items or dated products. And he often has to jettison 20 percent of a purchase. Last week, he culled a pallet of chicken feet from a shipment.
And he goes far afield for his findings. Last week was fairly typical.
On Monday, he and a crew went to Houston to clean out a frozen-food distribution warehouse that had been sold. His crew loaded up cheese, french fries, steaks, frozen vegetables and ice cream. The next day, he was in Oklahoma City to buy an insurance claim of a grocery truck that had been in a wreck. The take included flour, sugar, canned vegetables and detergent. Wednesday saw him in Austin, where he bought in bulk discontinued items such as cups, spice blends and paper products manufactured for a restaurant chain that had changed suppliers.
“I call it the flea market of food,” says Potthoff. “It’s not for everyone. My wife isn’t a Town Talk shopper. If she wants pork chops, she wants pork chops, and she’s going to buy them at the nearest grocery store.”
But for those of us who want some color in our shopping, who want to find the deal of the century and who are willing to cook with what the larder yields, Town Talk is the word.
And the very best part of Town Talk? It accepts the Discover card.
Town Talk Foods 121 N. Beach St. Fort Worth 831-6136 Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday;9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
These are some of the bargains we’ve found at Town Talk. Note that stock is constantly changing, so what’s available one week might not be available next.
3 frozen black-bean pizzas $1 Packaged lunches for children 2 for $1 17 ounces hazelnut oil $1.95 Designer pasta 5 packages for $2 Harissa $1 14 ounces hearts of palm $1 2 dozen snails $3.99 Water crackers 2 boxes $1 30 ounces pesto $1
Copyright 1998 Star-Telegram, Inc.