How Cary Judd Led Harris Teeter From Obscurity To DC Dominance
Walk through the neighborhoods in DC, Maryland or Virginia and it will not take long for you to stumble upon a Harris Teeter grocery store.
The North Carolina-based chain known for its fresh produce and creative layout has exploded into the DC region over the last decade, due in large part to the people behind the scenes, most notably KLNB’s Cary Judd.
Cary, who passed away last month at 56 after a struggle with cancer, worked in the DC commercial real estate industry for three decades. Under his leadership and vision, Harris Teeter grew from an unknown name in the region to a staple with at least 60 existing or committed locations in DC, Maryland and Virginia. In the above picture, Cary presents at the Kingsley Harris Teeter in Old Town Alexandria in 2014.
“Cary played the largest role that one could play in their expansion here in the DC Metro area,” KLNB’s Dallon Cheney, who worked with Cary for 17 years, tells Bisnow. Dallon said Cary was meticulous in handling every aspect of Harris Teeter’s growth, from studying maps and identifying sites, to developing strategies, negotiating with potential developers, all the way to closing the deal.
The brand that has become ubiquitous in the region is still a relative newcomer, compared to its competition. Maryland’s first Harris Teeter opened in 2006, and DC didn’t see one until 2008, when the store pictured above took the site of the historic Citadel building on Kalorama Road.
The first Harris Teeter opened in North Carolina in 1960. The chain grew steadily in the Carolinas until the ‘80s, when it began a series of mergers and acquisitions that brought Harris Teeter stores to Virginia and Tennessee.
When Harris Teeter began to enter the DC Metro region in the early 2000s, Giant and Safeway dominated the region's grocery market. This made breaking in a challenge for Harris Teeter, but Cary relished this David vs. Goliath dynamic, and even had a little fun with it as the chain started to gain traction.
“We used to joke about the sleeping Giant,” Dallon tells Bisnow, using a play on words referring to the massive supermarket chain. “They didn’t realize that Harris Teeter was coming in to take all the sites.”
Dallon credits the demographics of the region—which includes some of the wealthiest counties in the country—with fostering Harris Teeter’s success. He also says the population boom in the DC area led to an abundance of new developments and surging demand for grocery stores. People who had never heard of Harris Teeter were soon frequenting the store for their weekly grocery trips, and telling their friends about it.
“Those that knew of them thought they were very good,” The Peterson Cos Taylor Chess, who worked on some of the early Harris Teeter deals in Virginia, tells Bisnow. “Those that didn’t know them and experienced them for the first time thought they had great service, clean stores, good selection and good pricing.”
Developers loved having Harris Teeter as an anchor to attract quality co-tenants who wanted to be near the popular supermarket. But it was the ease of working with Cary and Harris Teeter’s executives that kept developers coming back to the company when they needed a reliable anchor for a new project, developers say.
“They were very easy to deal with,” Taylor says. “Cary would vet sites to such a good degree that by the time it was presented to senior management, senior management was very quick to be able to make a decision as to whether they would go forward and at what value.”
Taylor, pictured above, remembers working on one of the region’s first Harris Teeter deals in Charlottesville, before the company had established its presence in the market. After speaking with a Harris Teeter executives on the phone about a potential site, they flew in the next day to tour it and struck a deal on the spot.
With Cary closing deal after deal for the chain, Harris Teeter was beginning to break into the market, and the “sleeping Giant” started to take notice.
“I think that Teeter made Safeway and Giant up their game a little bit,” Grant Ehat, who worked on several Harris Teeter deals during his 24 years with JBGR, tells Bisnow. “They pushed them to get more creative in their store design and their prepared food offering and to be more aggressive about where they would locate.”
Harris Teeter now has 44 locations in Virginia, 12 in Maryland and four in DC, like the above store in Woodland Park, with several more in the pipeline. Looking toward Harris Teeter’s future without Cary in the mix, Dallon said the grocer is "bullish" about the DC market and will continue to expand its presence in the region.
Developers are confident that Cary has helped Harris Teeter gain such a strong position in the region that they will keep expanding.
“I see them continuing to grow, obviously now they're a part of one of the strongest grocery chains in the country,” Grant says. “I hope that we continue to be able to do multiple Harris Teeter deals.”
Taylor echoed this sentiment, expressing confidence in Harris Teeter's future.
“Cary has given them a great stronghold in the market, they are reputable and they are one of the few grocery stores in the market that you know is expanding,” Taylor tells Bisnow. “When you’re thinking about a new grocery location, they’re going to make the short list of who you would want to call.”