The grocer, located at 1924 S Osprey Ave, has survived the introduction of grocery chains and multiple ownerships.
The sliding glass doors open, and the smell of freshly baked bread, gooey pizza and still-fresh seafood breezes past.
The dull thud of a knife hitting a chopping board rings out from the meat department, and somewhere, coffee is being ground.
A customer moves from the front of the store, heading toward the wine section in the back corner. The journey takes her no more than 100 paces but still, employees chime out, “Hi, how are you?” “Have you been helped?” “How are your kids?” before she ever sets eyes on the robust selection.
This isn’t out of the ordinary for the family-owned shop. It’s what Morton’s Gourmet Market is built on.
“You know what I tell most of the people? They’re in the center of the universe,” said 35-year employee Wallace Hoppe. “I love taking people around and showing them the market and introducing them to people and showing them the food. I love it. I love people, and that’s why I love working here.”
Hoppe isn’t the only Morton’s employee to think this way — they all do — and it’s this mindset that has gotten the store to its 50-year anniversary, co-owner Eddie Morton said.
It’s what sets the store, nestled in the heart of Southside Village, apart from myriad grocery options.
“We believe and treat our employees like family,” Eddie said. “They spend more time here than they do at home with their own families, so we want to make it a fun place to work.”
Ted Morton, the founder of Morton’s Market, got his start in the food business in Tampa as a salesman for National Biscuit Co., now Nabisco. In 1951, he transferred to Sarasota.
After settling his family in Sarasota, Nabisco asked (unsuccessfully) Ted to relocate again.
Instead, Ted took a job as a buyer for a local store, Marable’s Market, cementing his connection to groceries and Sarasota.
By 1954, Ted was promoted to general manager and, over the next few years, helped Marable set up smaller grocery stores called Simple Sam.
It was in those stores that Eddie, Ted’s son, got his start in the grocery business.
“Growing up, I worked at Simple Sam with Mr. Marable’s son,” Eddie said. “They wouldn’t let us work in the bigger store. They put us in the smaller store to keep us out of trouble.”
But Eddie didn’t stay long at Simple Sam. In 1969, an opportunity arose for Ted — Marable wanted to sell the store.
“I graduated from college in August of 1969, started working for Mr. Marable on September 1, 1969, and we closed the deal to buy the store in October of ’69,” Eddie said.
From there, the father and son ran the business side by side, adapting over the years.
It was in 1971 that Marable’s Market introduced a delicatessen for hot meals and gourmet snacks, which now accounts for 60% of the business.
It wasn’t until 1976 that, with the blessing of Marable’s widow, the Mortons changed the name of the grocery to Morton’s Market
A family change
Born in 1969, the same year Ted bought the market, son Todd Morton grew up running through the aisles of the store. It wasn’t long before he was working there.
“My first job at the store was doing random holiday work,” Todd said. “I would deliver food trays and catering items and gift baskets during the holidays during high school and when I came home from college.”
However, Todd, who is now a co-owner, never intended on continuing in the family business.
It was in 1997 that it came time for Ted to retire. The question was, how to get him to do so.
“My dad, he never went to college. He always said he graduated from the school of hard knocks,” Eddie said. “He was always a worker, he believed in eight days a week 25 hours a day.”
It is because of this work ethic that Eddie said it was difficult getting his dad to retire. The only way to do so was to sell the store. So, by the end of 1997, the Mortons sold the market.
Ted retired and Eddie stayed on to run the store under the new ownership. Soon after, Todd, who wanted to settle down in Sarasota, got a job managing the market.
By 2007, a Morton father-son duo again bought the market, though this time it was Eddie and Todd at the helm.
The pair figured out how to compete with grocery chains such as Publix and opened a second market on Siesta Key in 2015.
“It’s been very, very fulfilling working with my dad,” Todd said. “He’s been someone that I’ve always looked up to, he and my grandfather. It’s a lot easier to run a business when you have a business partner that one, you respect and two, that you see eye to eye with most of the time.”
Now, the family is gearing up for the 50th anniversary, something Eddie said his dad, who died in 2010, would be proud to see.
“People in business ask you, ‘What is your holding time for your business,?’” Todd said. “When you have a family business in your home town, your holding time is forever.”