Ask Eddie Robertson, Lebanon’s “Yeah, buddy” guy, how he would describe the ambience of his independent Cash Saver grocery store and he likens it to Cheers, the bar in the vintage TV sitcom of the same name.
“I want everybody to know your name. I want your kids to work here one day. If five people walk by I ask all five, ‘How you doing? We’ll get you taken care of,’ ” said Robertson, who claims almost every customer knows him by name. “Most of them call me ‘Eddie’ or ‘Twin’ or say, ‘There’s the yeah-buddy guy.’
“I talk to everybody. A compliment doesn’t cost a dime. I got one woman, probably 80 years old, who comes every Friday after she’s had her hair done. I tell her, ‘You got your hair done for me today, didn’t you?’ I want her to know she’s my No. 1 customer.
“We have people come back and say, ‘Hey, I wasn’t charged for this.’ If I saw somebody breaking into the car of one of my employees, they would have to fight me,” said the gregarious grocery guru, a cheerleader for neighborhood stores.
As for how he gained the “Yeah, buddy” handle, well, that came after the March 2020 tornado when he posted a Facebook video and addressed viewers as “Yeah, buddy.” Since then customers walk in the store every day and holler the nickname across grocery aisles as a sign of endearment.
Moser’s Supermarket was the first grocery to open on the site 50 years ago and was successfully operated for decades by Odell and Linda Moser Bain. Four years ago, as the store was struggling, Eddie, his twin brother, Freddie, and Jim Webb bought the business and breathed new life into the place.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Robertson. “This is the first store where my brother and I are majority owners. We’ve blown our expectations out of the water here. Believe it or not, we never dreamed we could have a store this nice.
“This store was probably two days from closing down when we bought it. It would have almost become a food desert for the people around here. We come in here, and now we’re the Chick-fil-A of the grocery business. Whatever we have to do, we do it. I deliver groceries. That’s what has made our business very prosperous.”
Cash Saver stores food prices are generally the cost of the product, which is the tagged price, plus 10 percent.
Asked what are the main ingredients that bring shoppers into his store, he points to first-class customer service, short checkout lines and what he claims to be the best meat prices in Tennessee.
“Fresh, full and friendly -- that’s what you’ll find at your neighborhood Cash Saver,” he said, sounding just like a walking, talking commercial.
To confirm his spiel, Mt. Juliet shopper Dawn Newborn reported, “Every time you come in here, his staff is overwhelmingly friendly. This man right here, nobody has to come in here and take something because he will feed them. I drive this far so I can get this service and their wonderful meats.”
Rough neighborhood lessons
Twins Eddie and Freddie were born in Nashville. The family moved to the Paragon Mills neighborhood when the brothers were 15, and that’s when the duo got started in the business by sacking groceries at Jim Webb’s Value Plus store on Nolensville Road for $3.15 an hour.
“We were ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ when manners wasn’t cool, and we showed up on time or 15 minutes early. We was honest, and it was tough to find that back then on Nolensville Road,” reminisced Robertson.
“Me and my brother do well in neighborhoods with lower incomes where we can relate. We’ve been there. I think the community has really done us good. In the Black community we had a really strong business because we’ve been through it. They generally called us the ‘white twins.’ We were the minority where we grew up. We grew up in area where if you fought me you had to fight my brother. We didn’t really have a lot of trouble because we got a lot of respect so we didn’t have to.”
Robertson shared that he had a mentor named Bert Bailey, who took him out of the housing projects after he failed the fifth grade three times and enrolled him in a Sylvan Learning Center.
“If not for that I’d probably be in prison or dead. Bert was big in my life,” said Eddie, 48, who graduated from Glencliff High School and has been in the grocery business for about 30 years.
“I left for a little while, while my brother stuck with it the whole time. We’re best friends. Everything we have, we do together. He manages the Piggly Wiggly we still have on Dickerson Road. We had two. When we closed the one a mile-and-a-half down the road, we almost picked up all the business because of the way we handled the neighborhood. If you’re hungry, we’ll feed you. We’ve done well in everything we’ve ever done. We try to give back.”
Starting with the owner
When Eddie took on the Lebanon store, there were fewer than 15 employees. Today, he boasts a staff of nearly 50 people, including six butchers. About 70 percent of his staff works fulltime.
“I’ve got the best employees that I’ve ever had. When it’s slow, we have fun. When it’s time to work, I have people who really dig in with me,” he said.
“We train our people to do everything. The No. 1 thing they need to understand is that without the customers we don’t have a job. You got to have customer appreciation. It will take you further than anything. Older people, when they come to the store, they feel like they know me. They see me sweeping the parking lot and say, ‘That’s my friend.’ People will shop with you when they feel like they’re appreciated. And every day when I leave work, I tell every employee, ‘I appreciate them.’ We just take care of each other.”
The grocer noted that the store serves customers from a wide range of economic backgrounds. He recalled that when he was younger people predicted that independent food stores would vanish.
“These neighborhood stores are dying,” he confessed. “I think this store is a unique store. Up here we are able to be so competitive. People are coming back to that. They’re tired of the big stores that are really smoke and mirrors. When you make a neighborhood store, they know that’s an owner working, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping the parking lot. I’m not too good to do that.
“After the tornado last year we served about 1,000 hot dogs, 700 burgers, 200 grilled bologna sandwiches and lots of hot cups of coffee and bottled water. Everything was free. When the virus hit I started giving toilet paper away to customers and started a 7-8 a.m. Wednesday senior hour.
“We’re a neighborhood store run by neighborhood people, we really are. I like to work with everybody. We work with lots of churches and charities. I want to do community. I want to give back because it’s the right thing to do.”
Respect from employees
Receiving manager Ronnie Ferrell, who has worked at the grocery on this site for more than 20 years going back to when it was a Piggly Wiggly (his twin, Donnie, also works here), has been an eyewitness to the how the store has lent a helping hand to the neighborhood.
“Eddie’s got the biggest heart of anybody I ever knew. He’s so good to the employees, good to everybody. It’s easy to work for somebody like that. Ever since I been here I’ve had good bosses,” said Ronnie, who’s done it all, from running the cash register to stocking milk, bread and beauty aids.
As receiving manager, he handles the computer work, checks in all the vendors and prints signs for the store, among other chores. He plans to retire in June 2022.
“What I’ve enjoyed most is meeting all the different people that come in here. I’ve seen some weird and crazy and stuff but seen a lot of good stuff too. The people I work with are like family here,” he said.
Robertson’s family includes his partner, Erica; his sons Eddie Jr., 27, Eathan, 22, and Evan, 16; and Erica’s daughter, Daisy, 18. All pitch in at the store.
“Some of them like it. Some of them don’t,” said Robertson. “I’m a big guy on keeping a store clean, so they do cleaning, everything.”
He’s also big on sports and admits to being very competitive.
“We play lots of basketball and football, tennis and lift weights. And we have kickball games with everybody from the store,” he said.
As for something most people would not know about him, he admitted, “I’m a pretty big guy, but I’m a softie. All my employees know that.
“I love dealing with people and meeting people. This is a great place. During the tornado I had customers come up and give me $5 and say, ‘Get this into some peoples’ hands.’ What I’m trying to form is a community. We support each other, protect each other and shop with each other. I live here and do all my shopping in Wilson County.
“Do I make money? Absolutely. Sometimes I don’t, but it comes back to you. This is where I want to be and where I’m gonna end my working career in life. I can’t think of anything else I would want to do,” said the grocery man, who chiseled a brick out of the house he grew up in the projects. “I’m gonna use it one of these days when I build my own house.”