(FAYETTEVILLE, Ga.) — When Jilea Hemmings’ oldest son was diagnosed with autism, she and her husband, Jamie, started experimenting with food that seemed to help improve their child’s performance.
The Georgia couple used plant-based substitutes to create their son’s favorite dishes, including mac and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs.
Soon, they began selling their products at a farmers’ market, and their customers asked if the food was sold in grocery stores, too.
“From there, the rest is history,” Hemmings told ABC News.
The couple just opened Nourish + Bloom Market in Fayetteville, Georgia, believed to be the first Black-owned autonomous grocery store in the nation. Hemmings said their mantra is “real food and real products for real people.”
After moving from Chicago to Fayetteville, the Hemmings family said they realized they were in a food desert — an area where there is limited access to affordable and nutritious food — and decided to use their prior food and technology knowledge to open a market of their own.
Nourish + Bloom Market features a “frictionless shopping” experience where customers can walk in, grab what they need and leave without waiting in line or stopping to scan and pay.
Hemmings has a background in technology and software building, and to bring her and her husband’s vision to life, the market partnered with different companies such as Microsoft, USC Technologies, Nova Dynamics and Intel.
Although the store is fully autonomous, the owners still wanted the store “to feel warm” by having employees that assist customers throughout the market.
“People think that autonomous means that you’re taking jobs away,” Hemmings said. “It actually is not. We are changing the way their jobs are done.”
They also have delivery robots, named Nourish and Bloom, to deliver products in temperature-controlled compartments. With autonomous shopping, vending and robotic delivery, the market can offer 24/7 access to real food and environmentally friendly products.
“The community response has been overwhelming,” Hemmings said. “They are just so proud to see a Black family doing this, and then also to experience the technology, people have been very excited about that.”
The couple plans to franchise Nourish + Bloom Markets around the country, hoping to reach a goal of 800 stores in total.
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