By Lucas Witman
You may feel like you have stepped back in time when you park your car next to a horse and buggy and step into a store that offers many of the same foods that your great-grandparents might have purchased, but that is the experience visitors have when they step into Walnut Creek Cheese, a unique fresh food market tucked away in the idyllic landscape of Central Ohio’s Amish country. Catering to the area’s abundant Amish and Mennonite communities, Walnut Creek Cheese has become a destination retail store for those looking to taste a little bit of the simple life.
Walnut Creek Cheese was founded in 1977 by 21-year-old entrepreneur (and current company President) Mark Coblentz. The company had decidedly humble beginnings as little more than a pickup truck from which Coblentz dispensed deli meats and cheeses to no more than 60 clients on his delivery route. Over time, however, Coblentz managed to grow the business, eventually building a warehouse, as well as the Walnut Creek Cheese retail store itself in 1984. Today, Walnut Creek Cheese operates two stores, the original location in Walnut Creek and a newer store in nearby Berlin, as well as a 60,000-square-foot wholesale distribution center. The company currently employs 220 associates.
Today, the original Walnut Creek Cheese is an Ohio institution, a store that operates both as a destination retail experience and an everyday grocery store to those in the local community. The 55,000-square-foot store offers bakery items, whole foods, meats, cheeses, canned goods, bulk foods, kitchenwares, home décor items and more. In terms of population, Ohio’s Holmes County (where Walnut Creek is located) is home to the single largest Amish population in the world, and as such, Walnut Creek Cheese has made it its business to cater to this particular clientele. However, in serving the Amish and Mennonite communities, the store has developed a unique identity with broad appeal among food-conscious shoppers more generally.
“Our philosophy is that we take care of our local customers first. Everything we do is centered on our local customers, and we do have a large customer base here that are Amish or Mennonite,” said Jeff Conn, Marketing Director for Walnut Creek Cheese. “Our philosophy is if we take care of our local customer, others are going to benefit from that as well.” Walnut Creek Cheese has developed its loyal consumer following in part because of its extensive selection of Amish-made delicacies. For those looking for a taste of Amish cuisine, there is perhaps no better place to shop than Walnut Creek.
“Pretty much everything we manufacture is considered a homemade Amish-manufactured product – all of our jams and jellies, homestyle old fashioned fudge, pickles, all of our baked goods (including) cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, bread, cupcakes, and ice cream,” said Conn. “The majority of the meats and cheeses are manufactured locally [as well].”
According to Conn, tourists travel hours from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and even further afield to visit Walnut Creek Cheese and partake in its singular product selection. For those who do not have the ability to make the trip to Amish Country, the company distributes its meats, cheeses and other branded products throughout the eastern United States, from Illinois to the Carolinas. In addition, online shoppers can have Walnut Creek products shipped nationwide.
The team at Walnut Creek Cheese organizes promotions and in-store events throughout the year to bring new customers in and delight existing ones. From in-store events with door prizes and giveaways to weekend product sampling, there is always something going on at Walnut Creek. The store’s test kitchen is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, cooking up Walnut Creek products and sharing the recipes with shoppers. And the in-store Mudd Valley Café & Creamery serves house-made frozen custards, sandwiches, wraps, salads and more.
One particularly special way that Walnut Creek Cheese chooses to reach out to its customers is with its weekly ad. Unlike most retailers’ ads, which include little more than store specials for the week, Walnut Creek emails its ad subscribers a selection of seasonal, often Amish-inspired recipes that can be made from the store’s products. A recent ad featured recipes for easy summertime treats, including homemade frozen pops, fresh fruit milkshakes and “Like Wendy’s Frosties.”
“We want to provide something to customers that is of value,” said Conn. “[With the recipes,] we want to match the promotions that we’re running in store.” Although perhaps best known for its private label cheeses and deli meats, Walnut Creek Cheese prides itself on being a go-to store, fulfilling all the shopping needs of its customers. Planning to entertain friends and family at a summer barbecue? Stop into Walnut Creek to pick up everything you will need – all without leaving the store. According to Conn, the team at Walnut Creek proudly proclaims, “We have everything from the dinner to the dinner bell!” The original Walnut Creek Cheese is located at 2641 State Route 39 in Walnut Creek, Ohio.
For more information, call 877.852.2888, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the company’s website www.walnutcreekcheese.com to subscribe to the company’s weekly ad.
This story was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.