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Couple opens first Black-owned autonomous grocery store in metro Atlanta

Jamie and Jilea Hemmings were inspired to open the store by their oldest son, Jabari, who was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Trilith Studios has brought many development projects to the region just south of Atlanta. Several apartments, restaurants and other businesses have set up shop around one of the country's largest film production studios.

Jamie and Jilea Hemmings took note and decided to open an autonomous grocery store called Nourish and Bloom Market. It is the first contactless grocery store in Georgia and the southeast. It's also the first store of its kind that will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Jamie said the idea for the store was planted in October 2020. 

“You would nourish your soul so that you’re able to bloom and grow," Jamie said. "That’s where the name came from. Customers can actually use their phone, have their payment info on it. They’d scan a QR code, the turnstiles would open up, and then from there cameras and the weighted shelves would be able to connect that information together. Whatever items they pick up in the store automatically show up on their digital cart on their phone.”

Employees are also on hand to help customers with contactless and traditional checkout. The store features a state-of-the-art coffee machine, a bistro that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all-terrain temperature-controlled delivery robots that are able to travel up to three miles. 

“A lot of people didn’t want to go outside, they didn’t want to go to grocery stores, and we wanted to create a solution to get people back outside and spending money within businesses," Jamie said. "They don’t have to check out. You don’t have to touch anything. There’s no waiting in line." 

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The Hemmings were inspired to create their own line of frozen food and, most recently, open Nourish and Bloom, by their oldest son, Jabari. He was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old, and the family turned to a healthy diet to mitigate a lot of the challenges Jabari faced.

"We’ve always made sure we’ve fed him a pretty clean diet just to help him with his overall success," Jilea said. "Not only children with autism need to eat healthy, everyone really. So we thought about what we could do to support the community.”

Credit: Jamie Hemmings
The Hemmings moved to the Atlanta area about two years ago.

The Hemmings are the first Black owners of an autonomous grocery store. The couple moved to Atlanta about two years ago. They have partnered with Coca-Cola and Microsoft, among others, to teach kids and teens STEM-based learning through the store. 

RELATED: Business owners of color are still struggling amid the pandemic

"There are so many people that have come before us and paved the way," Jilea said. "But it’s a tremendous honor and we just want to be on the forefront for what technology looks like, especially for Black and brown young children. How do we embrace and bring them into robotics, AI, and autonomous and show them this is the future? This is the way we’ll be operating moving forward.”

Rosemarie Drake, Georgia's deputy district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said the viability of minority-owned businesses are vital to a community's ability to thrive.  Drake said oftentimes, people of color face funding challenges and experience a steeper learning curve than others. She said historically, entrepreneurs of color struggle with mastering the five C's of credit: capacity, capital, collateral, conditions and character. 

“Atlanta is constantly in national news for launching new businesses and startups in every area," Drake said. "Job creation is always critical, creating generational wealth, and taking skill sets to expand the types of offerings we have.”

The Hemmings' son, Jabari is now 14. As he's grown, so has his family's vision. The couple plans to open as many as 400 Nourish and Bloom stores nationwide. The Fayetteville location will open Friday, January 21.

"My son is my heart," Jamie said. "He’s really my heart, and everything Jilea and I do is for him. We know that with this store when we’re gone, he’s going to be okay.”

    

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