Meet the woman who will oversee Dayton’s newest and most innovative grocery store

The recently hired general manager of the Gem City Market is ready to hit the ground running — and she isn’t afraid to chase a few chickens while she’s at it.

In her new position, Daytonian Leah Bahan-Harris is responsible for making sure the market is hearing the needs of the community and for serving as leader of the area’s first-of-its kind, community-owned grocery store.

After years of work, the Gem City Market is expected to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Bahan-Harris spent most of her childhood in Five Oaks neighborhood up the street from where the market now stands. Moving to Trotwood in her teen years, Bahan-Harris is rooted in the Northwest Dayton area and aims to elevate the community that raised her.

She knows the job will be demanding. Bahan-Harris said she is ready to be “a boost of physical force” — no matter the role.

“Besides my professional women’s football career, I really enjoy wrangling stray chickens into their coop of spaces as needed,” Bahan-Harris said. “While some define it as a chase, I see a strategical dance of balance and confidence when having such interactions.”

An executive chef and farmer, Bahan-Harris is bringing decades of experience to her new role. The new GM plans to go far beyond the standard manager job description to organize cooking classes, nutrition education and put a focus on local farmers and vendors.

Here’s more from our Daytonian of the Week, Leah Bahan-Harris, in her own words.

🍎 Q: What in your life and career led to accepting the role as the general manager of Gem City Market? As GM, what will your main responsibilities be?

A: All of my experiences from being raised in this community and having many first experiences, to my professional development have brought me into the role of general manager. Almost 20 years ago, my experience in food service professionally begin at the Walmart that was on Salem Avenue in the food court. Since then, I evolved into retail management, with a strong food-service background, structuring and managing teams upwards of 40 people, while providing focused care with the customers we serve at a high level of value, presentation and quality

My primary responsibilities lie within our mission statement. Our mission is to serve, engage, and empower our neighborhoods by providing affordable, high-quality food in a clean and welcoming environment that is worker- and community-owned. My job is ensuring GCM is hearing the needs of our community and providing ways to exceed their expectations.

Providing leadership and vision to the store, I’ll be responsible for meeting the goal of providing quality products at competitive prices while maintaining excellent customer service in a friendly, clean, and safe work environment. My overall responsibilities include, but aren’t limited to, employee hiring and directing staff; financial management; marketing oversight, inventory and price management; and maintaining the Cooperative’s mission, policies and procedures.

Being a store where our focus is the community, who built us brick by brick, I’m also responsible for ensuring we have excellent programming through our health and wellness, truly being connected to the wellness of an individual’s mind, body and soul. (We) will have enriching fitness classes like yoga, a clinic with various health screenings, cooking classes in the kitchen among other activities to provide an extra space for wholeness in our community.

🍎Q: As a farmer and chef, how do you hope to incorporate those skills into your role as GM?

A: Being a general manager in a full-service retail grocery store with a focus on providing the community with an affordable product with its utmost respect and integrity flows into both. As an executive chef and farm manager, I have the utmost respect for quality product, presentation and value on an extensive level.

Understanding our supply chain, financial controls, community impact through the execution of quality products that need to meet state, federal and local guidelines has been the basis of both aspects in my career. I’ve also worked with people from all walks of life, with a respect and genuine understanding that makes a recipe for a strong servant-leader.

Being in a position to empower individuals to be involved from the ground up, figuratively, yet and still like a farmer, translates into how I view this Market. Learning the right ingredients that’ll make the best of the conditions of what we’re cultivating, while being productive in the maximization of energy, planning and time, is much like farming. As a chef, I’ve learned to be strategic, yet creative. I am a strong team player, with the edge to naturally excel and work in teams or independently.

I look for the unspoken subtleties in a crowd and how to make an experience warm, genuine and enjoyable. Smell, sight taste and sound to the utmost makes a chef a great manager, with the ability to understand financial strategic planning. The best chef empowers a great customer experience, which is greater than their own agenda. It’s about the experience of those in the space as well.

🍎Q: Why is Dayton the community you continuously choose to serve?

A: When I saw the general manager posting with Gem City Market, I was ignited by the call to be an instrumental force of lasting community restoration. I spent my youth here: volunteering Saturdays at Parkside, spending Sundays at my parent’s church off Broadway, at the Biltmore on Wednesdays, with my dad visiting local nursing homes. Playing sports, passing out food, playing music, I cherish many precious memories created in the same neighborhoods that I am humbled to serve through Gem City Market Cooperative.

I love the energy of Dayton, we’re a creative and innovative city with a melting pot of beautiful people from different places who settle here. There’s something truly empowering about being part of the greater vision to make a space in Dayton more than just your average store, but a place to feel welcome, and to feel like your overall wellness is key.

🍎Q: Do you have any ideas yet as to how you want to highlight local growers and vendors through the Gem City Market?

A: Through partnering with local extensions, agencies and individuals to provide training, support and guidance so our local farm scene is empowered. We plan to feature local farms directly on the shelves with pictures and information in our store and social media highlighting the various farms we support, proudly letting our customers know where their food comes from while providing a fair wage to the farmer and affordable prices to the local consumer. We also hope to highlight their items through our food-service program and cooking classes as well.

🍎Q: As you prepare for the opening, how has your own personal relationships to the market’s surrounding neighborhoods already grown?

A: I’ve been connected with various community associations, while also getting to know local, boots-on-the-ground individuals close to the market. Basically, I’m making myself available in whatever ways possible during this time of COVID-19 to hear the neighborhood, community owners and all those who want to share a voice about the market. In the beginning of the year, we are scheduling a series of deep listening sessions targeted to reach specific communities. Currently, we have a monthly community meeting where all are welcome to attend, hear latest updates and ask any questions.

🍎Q: What are you most excited for in the first few months after the grand opening of the market?

A: Being able to hear and respond to the needs of the community in action. Meeting member owners face to face, the sound of the flat top sizzling with fresh food, or employees having an “a-ha moment” learning a new task or deepening their skills through the market.

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