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Retired NFL player owns a grocery store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, food desert

Tyrone Legette’s mission as an entrepreneur is to meet a community’s needs

A little more than an hour and 20 minutes away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome sits an area in North Baton Rouge, Louisiana, known as Brownsfield. The area is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a food desert — a community that lacks access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods.

On Feb. 3, former NFL cornerback Tyrone Legette saw the need in that community and opened a grocery store where people could buy affordable and healthy food. His store is part of the Save-A-Lot franchise.

“The Baton Rouge area was an area of opportunity,” Legette said. “A lot of people really didn’t invest into the area that I was trying to redevelop. Before, it was a thriving area where Winn-Dixie was [15 years ago]. I knew that a grocery store was needed in the community, because the population was there, the traffic count was there, the income was there, there just wasn’t a grocery store.”

Legette was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1992, went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers, and made New Orleans his home. More than 150 homes and two decades later, he decided to expand his community efforts by investing in the grocery store business. The store is thriving while meeting a need.

The 46-year-old entrepreneur has created more than 20 jobs in the community and he wants to create more while encouraging entrepreneurship, by extending his own knowledge and sharing his story. Legette started his business, Legette Construction Inc., after seven years in the NFL. Through the company, he was able to help low-income families and first-time buyers acquire homes and save money.

“I would create the land,” Legette said. “I would team up with the community development corporation, whether it would be Jefferson Harris Community Development Corp. or one of the local nonprofits. We would build subdivision homes throughout communities and put people in homes for the first time.”

Legette is big on saving money and spreading the word about the necessity of spending wisely.

“I know that when I first got in the league in 1992, my thing was to save money, not to spend the opportunity that I had. I was one of those guys who never had an agent. I only had an attorney and my attorney was $75 an hour. I deferred my contract and only took $50,000 a year rather than taking a full salary of $350,000. I was a guy who drove my car from college for three years and let the interest of my money pay for the new car rather than my money, my principal paying for new cars. I was a guy that always felt as if I had to do the right thing because the opportunity was too good and too short to miss.”

Legette said the hardest part of his transition from the NFL to entrepreneurship was finding people and lending institutions to believe in his business. In order for people to take him seriously as a contractor, he built his first home with cash and sold it. Then a local bank acknowledged his work.

“The only way that I felt that I could do that was if I produced the product, and once I produced the product, I started selling the product as this is what I want to do long term,” he said. “In order to do this long term, you have to have some lending institutions who want to lend you money so you can do these things like construction companies, hotels, grocery stores, franchise, Chick-fil-A or whatever you may be interested in, because when you go from playing football and not playing football, you went from an income of $400,000 a year to an income of zero, so you literally will be leveraging your money to borrow money because you have no more income. So while you’re playing the game, you need to really start tying yourself to these communities as far as in the banking institution, because that’s where the development starts. Being able to borrow money to be able to live your dream.”

The Columbia, South Carolina, native is the youngest of 10 siblings and credits his mother for his work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. She owned and operated her own restaurant/cafe for more than two decades.

“She owned Blue Palace Tea Shop. I just saw her work and how hard she worked to raise 10 kids and I got it from her. I got it from my mom. When I went to NFL, I actually retired her from working and my mom hasn’t worked in 27 years. I was able to see all of my siblings succeed in life and do things that they really wanted to do and live their dreams. I saw that within my family, and I knew that my dream was obtainable as well.”

The NFL was not Legette’s biggest dream. He was focused on getting an education and raising children.

“My dream was to just have a family. Just to be a father, a husband and go to work every day, live an honest life and make an honest living. Football was not in my plan because I never dreamed of playing professional football. It was God’s will and I was the benefit of it.” He is the father of a daughter, Tyla and a son, Tyrone Jr.

The best advice he has ever gotten was from former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, the College Hall of Fame coach from Legette’s alma mater.

“When he called me into his office my senior year and he told me that I was going be playing in the East-West Shine Bowl and Senior Bowl, he said, ‘Son, you’re not very big and some teams are going to be offering you some contracts in the NFL, so save your money.’ That was the best advice anyone can give me, because it’s simple but it’s real. I saved my money and I didn’t allow distractions to come in my life where I was spending too much money on an agent, spending too much money on vehicles, homes, jewelry … I was just giving myself a raise. In college, I might have got $1,200 for housing, so I actually gave myself a raise at $50,000, $4,500 a month was a big raise for a kid who only had $1,200. It just made sense in saving your money and doing right by your money, because this was an opportunity of a lifetime that could set you up for life and I was too afraid to miss the opportunity.”

Legette said the best advice he has given to others in professional sports is to follow their own mind.

“Do what you feel is right in your heart to do and choose jobs and choose opportunities that you’re interested in, not someone else’s dream. I planned my life 10 years ahead or five years ahead of where I’m at. It was just planned out. Live your dream. Be an entrepreneur in something you enjoy doing, because this is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. The professional game is so short where that’s just a pimple of your life. It’s short-lived but it’s a great opportunity to set yourself up into whatever you choose to do and whatever you enjoy doing for the rest of your life. Choose the opportunity, don’t let the opportunity choose you.”

Leggett remains a Saints fan and is dedicated to the franchise that gave him his first opportunity. He doesn’t catch too many games and prefers to watch the games at home; he’s not “a big crowd guy.”

He travels from his home in New Orleans to his grocery store three or four times a week and relies heavily on his store manager and two assistant managers.

On July 5, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed in Baton Rouge by two white police officers. The incident affected Leggett, and he speaks up for his community as a whole.

“It did affect me in a very positive way and we’re a store of every race and every type of people and I noticed where the customers have been so appreciative, all races have been so appreciative of what we’re doing in the community. Dealing with Black Lives Matter, it’s a shame that we even have to say that black lives matter, because it really does. For whoever don’t believe that, it’s a big concern in our community. Just ask anyone who’s black. It seems as if it’s just so one-sided and it shouldn’t have to be that way, but we just have to work on changing it. Everyone feels our pain, how we feel about our lives and our kids’ lives and our community’s lives. It’s a fight that we have to continue fighting and we have to continue dialogue about our true feelings. It’s real. It’s not just we’re saying this just to be saying it. We’re saying it because we genuinely feel that that’s not the case. I support the cause. Black lives matter.”

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.