There’s something unique about Tomato House Farms near Dahlonega in Lumpkin County. Maybe it’s the rows upon rows of jars filled with seemingly endless varieties of salsas, pickles and preserves. Maybe it’s the fresh, local produce throughout the market or the butcher tucked into the back corner.
Maybe it’s the classic, country look of a store that, despite almost three decades of growth, has always tried to stay humble.
Whatever it is, it’s been drawing customers to the side of the road in Lumpkin for 27 years, and it doesn’t look like things will be slowing down anytime soon.
The market at 22 Stephens Circle used to sit about a mile down the road from its current location. Tomato House Farms outgrew that spot and moved its gift shop — a collection of country trinkets and decor — to its present home about nine years ago. The produce, butcher and jar operation followed about seven years later.
“We built a gift store and we’ve been busy ever since,” said Jeffrey Grindle, owner of Tomato House Farms.
Every day, customers like Eileen Leary stop by to pick up items she said “you can’t find anywhere else.”
“I think it’s just unique,” said Leary, a Hiawassee resident. “If you just want to get something different, this is where you come … It’s a traditional farmer’s stand — much bigger, though.”
And that’s the way Grindle built it. When the market was down the road, everything was open-air. That little building grew and grew as his son, Casey Grindle, built more walls and expanded the roof.
It would get too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but Grindle kept the market open — Tomato House Farms is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter — because he knew that’s what he had to do.
“People depend on us to be here,” Grindle said.
But those people changed over time, and the business has changed with them.
Customers “loved the open-air market, but honestly, people’s shopping methods changed a lot because people like to shop inside too now,” Grindle said.
So now, instead of that open-air market, Tomato House Farms is bonafide store: It’s enclosed with air conditioning, heat and plenty of lighting to see everything it offers.
“I saw this place grow when he moved,” said Angie Grindle, Jeffrey’s wife. “It really, really took off. It’s been growing because he got into gourmet, and he got into other foods and started expanding his lines.”
Tomato House Farms added a butcher, which is something Grindle knows quite a bit about. His parents owned a country store and were in the meat business.
“There are not many places you can go and request to have something cut,” Grindle said.
“We don’t buy nothing but top quality … We cut and pack everything here, the way it used to be. That's the key.”
There’s an entire wall toward the back of the market lined with hot sauce. Everything from four amigos hot sauce to fireman’s hot sauce. There’s even John McCain-branded sauce and a clear Fairhope Favorites moonshine hot sauce.
Then there’s the pickled items: Old fashioned lime pickles, sweet fire relish and pickled eggs.
“Most everything we do is home-canned,” Grindle said. “We don’t do it at home, but we have people who do it for us.”
That’s because Grindle doesn’t want to deal with all the regulations that come with operating a cannery. Tomato House Farms comes up with the recipes and someone else does the rest.
“We sell anything local we can get, too, if it’s good quality,” Grindle said. “We’ve got a lot of local farmers who bring us stuff during the summer and we sell it. Anything I can get local is good.”
Those farmers keep the produce fresh, but when the growing season in the area is over for certain produce, Grindle has to go somewhere else. That’s why he travels to the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park two or three times each week.
At first, the market can seem overwhelming -- it’s an ocean of different flavors and types of items — but a huge, eclectic amount of variety is just the way Grindle has come to like things.
He said he’s not afraid to purchase something and see if it works in the store.
“It’s just always worked,” Grindle said. “I think there’s a market for it, you’ve just got to find it. And you’ve got to have stuff to get people in here. That’s the whole key I think.”
And if enough customers request it, he’ll try to get it in the market: That’s how the beer and wine sections came to be.
Casey Grindle said Tomato House Farms, with over 200 different craft beers, has the biggest selection in the Dahlonega area. He said they also have the biggest selection of local wines, too.
But no matter what’s added to the store in the future, its heart will always be in the trinity that got it started in the first place: tomatoes, jam and jelly.
Grindle said he’s focused on making things more comfortable for his customers while sticking to the roots of where Tomato House Farms came from.
“Everybody got used to the old store, like the nostalgic look, and that’s the reason we try not to get too fancy in here,” Grindle said. “We keep it country. That’s why we didn’t paint no ceilings. And that’s just what I’ve always been around. That’s what customers like.”
Tomato House Farms
Where: 22 Stephens Circle, Murrayville
When: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day
Contact: 706-867-8052More info: Facebook