Swarm 365 Hero in the Community: Meet Bruce Miller from Groucho’s Deli
The original Groucho’s Deli – now run by Swarm 365 Member Bruce Miller – has been a mainstay in the Columbia, SC area for close to 80 years now. Although highly regarded for lunchtime staples like its trademarked original Dipper subs and Formula 45 sauce, Groucho’s Deli has also built a strong reputation as a pillar in the community when it comes to giving back.
“Groucho’s was started by my grandfather, Harold Miller,” explained his grandson, Bruce. “His family was Russian immigrants and he was born in 1899 on a boat that landed in Philadelphia. Early in my grandfather’s youth, [my great-grandfather] got shot and died. My great-grandmother had to raise five kids and sent my grandfather – the oldest – and his brother to an orphanage during the week. When he was 15 or 16, he was cut free and began doing a bunch of jobs and one of them was helping with food at a place in Atlantic City.”
Harold eventually found his way to South Carolina and put his skillset – which included having mastered coleslaw and potato salad recipes – to work. He bought some property, opened a deli in Columbia and coined it “Millers” in 1940. But it didn’t take long before the name changed thanks to the owner’s uncanny resemblance to a well-known funnyman at the time.
“Across from the original Groucho’s on main street, there was a movie theater, which was always playing Groucho Marx movies,” said Bruce. “Everyone leaving the movie theater would go across the street for a beer or a sandwich and call my grandfather ‘Groucho.’ At the time, he looked a lot like the famed comedian Groucho Marx. He was a really funny guy and carried a big cigar. The name stuck and a year later they changed the name to ‘Groucho’s.’”
Bruce’s father, Ivan – a former college English professor– partnered with Harold in the late 1960s, right around the time Bruce was born. Bruce then came onboard in 1995 and Groucho’s began franchising stores four years later. With now more than 30 locations throughout South Carolina, North Carolina (includes Park Road in Charlotte and Statesville) and Georgia, a core value of Groucho’s Deli has always been helping those in need.
“Up until his death [in 1974], my grandad was real engaged in helping the underprivileged, homeless and children. The Groucho’s Deli vision that we instill to all our franchisees, the very last line is, ‘Give Back to the Communities We Serve.’ He started The Bucket Cup program, which bought braces and full prosthetics for children when polio was around. He belonged to a group of guys called, ‘The Goodfellas,’ and they would raise money to feed people on holidays.”
He added, “One of our units has given 20 bag lunches twice a week for the past 11 years to a children’s shelter, so the people running the facility can focus more on schoolwork and other stuff. It’s a temporary place for children before they move onto foster parents. We’re still big into the children’s charities.”
While the COVID-19 outbreak has altered how restaurants operate and function the last several months, Groucho’s was fortunate to have already implemented many standard practices when it comes to quickly picking up and taking out.
“Groucho’s is a quick service fast-casual restaurant. We developed our app four or five years ago, so we were way ahead on that. We also had curbside pickup and online ordering. All the infrastructure for carryout only was already in place and we reviewed all our safety protocols.
When COVID-19 shut things down in the middle of March, all 34 stores as a whole were down about 25 percent. By the end of April, all our stores were comping again to the previous year.”
Still based in Columbia, Miller makes the roughly two-and-a-half-hour drive to Spectrum Center and back as often as he can to watch his beloved Hornets in action. He recently became a season ticket holder for the second time around and his passion for the squad is just as strong as it’s ever been.
“I’ve been going to Hornets games since inception,” he said. “I love going to them. My wife is a huge Hornets fan now. Fox Sports plays every single game and whether I can make it or not, we’re watching down to the last second. My highlight of this season was Malik Monk hitting his first game-winner against Detroit in November. That blew my wife’s mind. That was the moment she was locked in for life.”
He added, “Devonte’ Graham is a legend in progress. I’m such a big Devonte’ fan. I’ve got huge love for Miles Bridges. Coach Borrego seems to be doing really well with the situation. The Martin brothers and Terry Rozier, when those guys collect themselves, they’re unstoppable. All these guys are so young and so talented and this team is going to do nothing but continue to get stronger and more confident. I definitely see playoffs in the 2020-21 season.”
Miller has remained incredibly positive and upbeat throughout the pandemic, choosing to focus on the bright side of things and continuing to assist others along the way. And best believe when the Hornets finally make their long-awaited return to Spectrum Center in front of fans, the main man at Groucho’s Deli will be front and center to watch his team compete.
“If they open the stadium back up COVID or no COVID, I’ll go in there in a mask, gloves and a hat and I would attend every single game!” he excitedly stated. “I’ll take the precautions, but when we come back, I really feel like the Spectrum Center will be lit up with people.”