Grits and Greens

Originally, Grits & Greens was supposed to be the name of a Southern restaurant. That’s what Mantachie-based Carrie Thompson Buse, 45, envisioned when in 2013 she had designed the restaurant’s logo and began lasering it onto mugs. Already, she had bought the deep fryers, freezers, flat-top grills, even booths and tables.

“I just needed the perfect location,” Buse describes how close she came to opening her own restaurant of Southern staples. But then changes in her family life made her reconsider taking on a venture that would have required a 70+ hour work week. Thus the restaurant plans were shelved.

But the resolute brunette, looking casual in one of her own T-shirt designs, was aching for an outlet.

“If I’m not creating something I feel useless,” she admits.

Four years earlier, Carrie and her husband had bought the Tupelo Trophy & Gifts store, replete with lasers for cutting all kinds of shapes.

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“The possibilities are endless,” Buse remembers her initial reaction to seeing the machines. She started making wooden Christmas ornaments that sold like hotcakes. One particular one, a small blue guitar in honor of Elvis, was even buried in a time capsule in 2010 at Fairpark right outside Tupelo’s City Hall.

“But we had all this excess painted wood left from the ornaments,” Buse says. “We didn’t want to be wasteful so we started making jewelry.”

What started initially as a byproduct soon became a successful jewelry line and Buse resuscitated the name Grits & Greens for her latest brainchild. Instead of formal training, her jewelry-making background is a mix of nature and nurture.

“I come from a long line of craftsmen and junk gypsies,” says Buse of her inspiration. “My mom and grandmother can transform anything into something beautiful.” Her mother has made vintage pieces of jewelry most of her life.

“She’s a creative ball of energy,” Buse says. Her stepfather, meanwhile, makes objet trouvé art, turning found objects into bird houses and fish.

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The jewelry isn’t Buse’s first foray into craftsmanship. She also has a line of furniture together with her father – Grits & Greens Hog Barn Furniture – named aptly for its place of assembly inside an old hog barn. That venture is currently on hiatus while her father is building a new house for himself. Plenty handy, the mother of three adult children, two stepkids, and four grandsons, two of whom live with her full time, Buse can handle the big stuff — like repairing your air conditioner – as well as the fine, finicky jewelry work. In fact, helping her uncle, an HVAC contractor, repair an air conditioning unit at a customer’s house unexpectedly turned into romance. Eight years ago she wed the former customer, Terry Buse, 51.

“I am Southern through and through,” says Buse who grew up on the Mississippi coast in Gulfport before moving to Mantachie, about 17 miles east of Tupelo, some 20 years ago.

“I love to be in a garden, feet in the dirt. I would explode if I couldn’t create and grow something.”

And creating she does plenty. Now available at her Tupelo trophy store, at festivals, and a total of 28 stores and boutiques across the South, her jewelry line is made of laser-cut wood and painted in vibrant hues. Originally designed at Buse’s kitchen table, her pieces are unapologetically Southern: pendants on leather strings and earrings in the familiar shape of the state of Mississippi, footballs, football helmets, Mason jars, feathers, and cotton balls, as well as religious symbols like fish, and crosses.

AU3R0971Last year, Buse took her designs for the first time to Jackson to the Mississippi Market, a wholesale show, and promptly picked up 14 stores eager to sell the Grits & Greens line. Today, Grits & Greens is no longer a one-woman act. Buse gets help from Kendall McKee, 25, and sisters Lindsey Humber, 27, and Sarah Barrett, 22. Sometimes, her 21-year-old daughter Shelby Spradling pitches in, too.

“It’s a labor-intensive job,” Buse says of the 3,000 or so pieces she and her team made last year.  

Of course, being based in Tupelo, it’s impossible to ignore the city’s most famous son. Buse has designed jewelry that is approved by Elvis Presley Enterprises and made for the King of Rock’n Roll’s Tupelo fan club, like some black, guitar-shaped earrings that sport a minuscule pink Elvis.

Last year, Buse’s jewelry line made up about seven percent of her store’s total sales, but she says demand is rising as wholesale orders from boutiques and stores are up. This year, Buse expects to create about 5,000 pieces of jewelry. Already her creative mind is racing. In addition to the preppy line of Grits & Greens, Buse is tinkering with a second line that’s more gypsy-like with leather tassels. And she’s come up with a catchy name for it — Gypsissippi.

“My jewelry is the most rapidly expanding item in the store,” she says. “Making jewelry makes me happy.”

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Photos by Lauren Wood // Story by Sandra Knispel

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