Local, kitschy and fun are all words that describe Marsh Tacky Market Cafe. Owner Bobby Marshall likes his island market to have an eclectic vibe. The unique name comes from the Marsh Tacky horses that are native to South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
When Marshall was considering places to open his market and cafe he contacted his local Small Business Development Center. There he met business consultant, Martin Goodman, who serves as the region director for all of the SBDC centers associated with the University of South Carolina. Marshall had found a location he thought would work for his new enterprise, but after discussing this option with Goodman, he realized that the lease was untenable.
Goodman suggested a location next to St. Helena and Hunting Island on the Sea Island Parkway.
“The owners of the location were amenable,” Marshall said. “They did everything they could to help us out. They fixed some things that needed fixing and we have developed a good relationship with them.”
While Marshall wanted to offer light food services like breakfast, his market wasn’t equipped with a restaurant kitchen. Goodman helped him work out a menu that could be offered with a minimal amount of equipment and cleanup. Now breakfast and lunch have become a big part of what Marshall offers, as well as frozen yogurt and unusual local beers like Palmetto and Holy City. Outside tables allow patrons to hang around and enjoy their adult beverages while Marshall gets to avoid the expensive license needed to actually serve alcoholic drinks.
Formerly a field director with the National Wild Turkey Federation, Marshall had experience developing relationships, but not the knowledge to set up his own small business. When talking about his experience working with Goodman, Marshall said, “Martin was very helpful with financing and my business plan. There is no way I could have gone through the process as quickly as I did without Martin’s help. He was extraordinary with connections. The licensing and other hoops you have to jump through were daunting. He gave me a to-do list that included things like DHEC and fire inspections. He has a background in restaurants, so Martin had real insight into what we were trying to do.”
In addition to the cafe, Marsh Tacky Market offers various sundries, as well as gifts from other small businesses across the state.
“We carry benne wafers from Charleston Old Colony Bakery, soaps from Palmetto Soap Company, Charleston Tea Plantation products, Mother Shucker’s Cocktail Sauce, Gullah Gourmet products, local honey and barbecue sauces and pottery from regional artists,” Marshall said.
The market and cafe is a family affair, employing Marshall, his wife Erika and their three children in various capacities. The market is also a good place for customers to learn about the other small businesses that the Marshall’s have including Erika’s horseback riding business and their sons’ fishing charter business. In high season, Marshall hires up to three seasonal employees.
Marshall understood from the beginning that in order to make it his venture had to have a number of revenue streams. He also knew that he could not cater only to high season tourists, that he had to establish his business as a part of the community.
“The main thing to be successful with your own small business is that you’ve got to stick with it,” Marshall said. “Don’t close your doors to go on vacation. You have to be open. People need to be able to count on you.”