By Keshia McEntire

Ever since the Kroger on 38th and Post Road closed, healthy food options on the Far-Eastside of Indianapolis have been much harder to come by. Rather than waiting on chains to set up shop and remedy the problem, community leaders are stepping up to make change happen in their neighborhood.

One of those individuals is Robert Hearst, who opened A&I Variety Meats & Produce just a short walk from where the Kroger once stood. Hearst used his life savings to transform what was once a dentist’s office into a modest yet functional shop, offering affordable and nutritious food to the surrounding community.

keshia mcentire robert hearts heartbeat indy A&I store
Robert Hearst of A&I Variety Meats & Produce (right) has pride in his ties to Indy’s Far Eastside. 

A Community In Need

According to a recent study by The Polis Center at IUPUI, an estimated 200,000 Indy residents live in food deserts. While living in an area with low food access would be inconvenient to any resident, families who live in low income areas are most affected because they are less likely to have one car per adult and may rely on public transportation to purchase food outside of the immediate area.

Businesses in walking distance from Hearst’s shop include a Taco Bell, McDonalds and a Family Dollar.

“The young people around here didn’t have adequate nutritious food, and that can cause a lot of health problems,” said Hearst. “African-Americans struggle a lot with diabetes, high cholesterol, so I was praying about it and when God said go, that’s what I did. My motivation was just from seeing the need.”


A Community United

While some individuals told Hearst that opening a shop on 38th and Post was not a safe business move, he felt the reward outweighed the risk. Hearst says his experience has been overwhelmingly positive, yet he has faced a few minor setbacks.

Less than a month ago, he arrived at his shop to find two windows shattered by rocks.

“It was probably some kids, running around, throwing rocks,” Hearst said, adding that nothing was stolen. “A blessing came out of it, and one thing I’m really thankful for is that it brought the community together. They rallied around my wife and I. We got the windows fixed and everything else.”

The community continues to support Hearst’s business, and Hearst hopes to channel that support back to the residents who need it the most. Yesterday, through a partnership with Fervent Prayer Church, A&I Variety Meats & Produce offered free food to the public.

“We are in a food desert, and as you can see, Kroger is no longer here,” said Janice Bernard with Fervent Prayer Church. “The nearest grocery store is probably three miles out, so for us to come and help this store that’s just beginning; we are excited to make sure this store stays open and available.”

Hearst is thankful for the support and hopes the larger Indianapolis community takes note of the comradery.

“I thank Fervent Prayer for what they are doing to help me and my wife out, knowing that we put all our saving into this,” said Hearst. “Fervent Prayer stepped up and said, we got your back. We need to have more people that pull the strings come down here and really see that there are so many people in this community trying to do something positive. Not everybody here is trying to hurt each other. The community is really proving them wrong.”

He hopes to inspire other entrepreneurs to invest in Indianapolis’ Far Eastside.

“The Far Eastside is the best side, that’s the one thing I want them to know,” said Hurst. “There is a lot of opportunity here. I know they probably feel there is no return on the investment, and that’s why this side of town looks like this but as a Christian, as a man, as a black man in this community I can’t save everyone, but I can do my part.”

A&I Variety Meats and Produce is located at 8939 E 38th St, Indianapolis, IN. Follow the store on Facebook here.

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