To tell the tale of Carnivore Market–the new specialty meat shop tucked on a corner of Columbia Avenue–you have to start with a somewhat unconventional love story.

For SJ and Virginia Botha, their story began in SJ’s home country of South Africa. Virginia went on a safari as part of a work trip, and SJ was her tour guide. Long story short, she ended up quitting her job in the States to move to the foreign country, where the pair ran their own safari company.

From there, it’s been a winding ride: they’ve also owned a granite company in Nashville, and a BBQ restaurant in South Africa too. But it was in Nashville that SJ–a South African native–first discovered his passion for the Southern culinary tradition.

“I bought him a smoker for his 30th birthday, and he just fell in love with it. When we moved back [to South Africa], we shipped it overseas and brought our love of barbecue,” Virginia says. “We ended up running a barbecue restaurant over there.”

The Bothas relocated back to Franklin with their two children just last year. Soon after, the pair opened Carnivore Market, a small shop in downtown Franklin full of specialty products sourced either from local farms or from their former country. Not wanting to open a full-service restaurant due to the demanding hours, they saw an opportunity to provide the Williamson County community with their love for high-quality meats.

Display cases as you walk in the store are filled with a variety of all-natural selections, including homemade sausages, Spanish chorizo, marinated chicken, steaks and salamis.

“We have a wide variety of items that you can buy as-is, or marinated. They taste great and are easy to grill,” Virginia says, “We also have lots of dried meats, too. Anything you buy from us, you know exactly where it’s coming from, and we know what’s in it. We try to keep it as simple as we can.”

Brimming with South African influences, Carnivore boasts an array of artisanal meats that you wouldn’t find in a typical grocery store. Biltong, South Africa’s version of beef jerky, is cured for 24 hours, then air-dried for seven to 10 days before it’s thinly sliced and sold to customers. Cabanossi (dried sausage), sosaties (marinated kebobs) and boerewors (grilling sausages) are other South African favorites served in the shop.

In the small grocery half of the store, South-African sauces, spices and sweets are lined next to an assortment of local items, like Olive & Sinclair chocolates and Southern City grits. You can also find a selection of fresh cheeses, Benton’s bacon, and even homemade dog treats.

Virginia, a Brentwood High School graduate, notes the changes in Franklin and remembers the days when the town wasn’t as bustling as it is now.

“Downtown [Franklin] was always cute and quaint, but it definitely didn’t have as much development going on,” she says. “It was more of the place you went to just to visit Earl’s Pumpkin patch. It’s really amazing that I own a business down here now.”

The Bothas appreciate that present-day Franklin has provided them with a perfect place to start and grow their new venture.

“I think that a meat market is a revival of kind of an old art. If you’re going to do something different, you need a community to support you,” Virginia said. “Franklin probably has the best sense of community in Tennessee, from what I see. People are willing to go out of their way to support small business, even if it’s outside of the box.”

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