Lehmann looks back at 94 years of grocery business

Published 10:14 pm Saturday, August 2, 2008

NATCHEZ — Jay Lehmann has the grocery business in his blood.

At 8 he was picking rotten potatoes from sacks for his family’s wholesale grocery business, by 25 he was running it.

Now at 65, and with no plans to retire, he can look back on 94 years of continued family service in Natchez.

Email newsletter signup

Lehmann is the owner of Lehmann’s Cash and Carry, a business his grandfather started in the early 1900s.

The store Lehmann operates today is what he calls a large box store.

“It’s like Sam’s but smaller,” he said.

And that may the best way to think of Lehmann’s operation, like a small Sam’s Club.

Strolling the shelves in Lehmann’s shop customers have the option to purchase many normally store-bought items in industrial quantities.

Huge jars of pickles, buckets of peanut oil and gallons of snowball syrup are all at the ready.

Lehmann said many of his best customers operate concession stands in the area.

“But we also service a lot of restaurants in the area,” he said.

Lehmann estimated he sells to approximately 90 percent of the restaurants in a 40-mile radius.

While he’s not their exclusive supplier he said he likes the opportunity to be able to supply the community.

“They might just come in to pick up some pepper,” he said.

But not all of Lehmann’s customers are restaurants; many use his store to fill their everyday shopping needs.

Lehmann said his hottest selling item is the restaurant style 3-compartment Styrofoam container.

“We sell a ton of those,” he said pointing to a stack of boxes in the corner.

The container boxes are stacked to the ceiling.

And Lehmann said the ones buying the containers are not restaurant owners.

“People just use a lot of them,” he said.

Just after Lehmann talked about the containers a customer came into pick up two loads of them.

Natchez resident Jennifer McDonald said her family uses quite a few of the containers when they have cookouts.

McDonald, also a Sam’s shopper, said she likes the convenience of going to Lehmann’s place.

“They have what we need,” she said.

But how much longer area shoppers will have that convenience is not known.

While Lehmann said he has no plans to retire, his children have no interest in continuing the near 100-year-old business.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll probably just sell it.”

But the next owner could have some trouble adjusting to Lehmann’s bookkeeping style.

He does not use a computer to keep records and none of the of the items on the shelves have prices.

But he’s not worried about that.

“Everything is right here,” he said tapping his head with his finger.