If you’re involved with an organization that’s doing good things for our community, chances are you know Emerson Breeden.
Breeden is the director of community relations for the Knoxville division of K-VA-T/Food City and, with 67 years of service, is the organization’s longest-tenured employee. He’s been involved with the Boys & Girls Club, Emerald Youth Foundation, Remote Area Medical, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Love Kitchen, Second Harvest Food Bank and many more.
He’s worked with the Boy Scouts of America’s Great Smoky Mountain Council for more than 30 years, serving on the steering committee for the group’s annual golf tournament and teaming up for the annual Scouting for Food Drive. This spring, the Boy Scouts awarded Breeden with the prestigious North Star, which recognizes individuals for their contributions to scouting.
“I appreciate the honor,” Breeden says. “And I appreciate our company for providing me the time and resources to participate and support the community.”
Breeden, who grew up near Riverdale in East Knox County, was a student at Carter High School when he became a courtesy clerk at the White Stores on Central in 1952. With White Stores, he worked his way up from department manager to assistant manager to then become one of the local chain’s youngest store managers.
He had meant to go to the University of Tennessee, but, he says, “I got so involved in the supermarket business. I felt like I had a good future in it. I wanted to get started.”
He was vice president of human resources when Food City bought White Stores in 1989 and was later promoted to his current position.
He says Food City’s founder, Jack C. Smith, “had a real passion for community service. Our CEO (and president), Steve Smith (Jack’s son), has that same passion.” Of giving back, Breeden says, “It was instilled in me that we have that responsibility if we’re doing business in the community.”
Breeden and his wife, Leslie, have five children, who reside in California, Nashville and Knoxville, and three grandchildren. He partly retired last April, now spending two days a week at the company’s local offices off Old Weisgarber Road.
Breeden, who was named 2007 Grocer of the Year by the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association, still has a passion for the business.
“It’s such an interesting industry,” Breeden says.
As Knoxville grows, welcoming more people from other countries and other parts of the country, he sees the industry growing and diversifying, too. And while automation has expedited some parts of the experience, ultimately, it’s all about the human element.
“They’ll never take that away,” he says.