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Larry’s Market: Surviving and Thriving on the Power of Lunch

By Lorrie Baumann

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

When Larry Ehlers started working at his local grocery store in Brown Deer, Wisconsin after his return from World War II, it was the kind of neighborhood grocery that sold everything that the neighborhood families really needed from day to day in about 3,000 square feet of selling space. Then times changed, local roads gave way to superhighways, the small village of Brown Deer became a suburb of Milwaukee, and big box stores entered into the grocery marketplace.

Larry’s Market changed with the times by evolving into a specialty grocer. Its produce and meat departments have been eliminated in favor of prepared foods that cater to the lunchtime needs of the workers employed in the nearby office buildings, a highly regarded specialty cheese market makes the store a destination for tourists looking for the best of Wisconsin cheeses, and a busy catering department now provides more than half the store’s revenue.

“It’s an old, old grocery store, but it’s a charming building,” said Patty Peterson, the Manager of Larry’s Market and the daughter of Larry himself. “We’re not on the highway. We’re on the byway…. We don’t have a thousand people walking in front of our store each day.”

After his return from the war, Larry Ehlers worked for the store for years before he finally bought it in 1970. His son, Steve Ehlers, bought the store from him in the late 1980s, and Steve’s wife became the owner upon Steve’s death in 2016.

Around 1971, Peterson’s parents had become fans of French cheeses after their introduction to them at a Summer Fancy Food Show. After tasting some of those cheeses at the show, Larry placed an order. A few days after the cheese was delivered to the store, it was gone, sold to upscale customers who’d learned to appreciate traditional French cheeses during their travels overseas. Larry continued ordering. “Of course my father is the consummate salesman. He can still sell like nobody’s business,” Peterson said. “He still comes in three days a week.”

Steve carried on that romance with French cheeses as he traveled in Europe in the 1970s for his own version of the Grand Tour once made by Victorian gentlemen to broaden their horizons as they started out on their lives as independent adults. “He loved France,” Peterson said.

i-54V7VWv-XLSteve and his father decided to start carrying artisanal American cheeses in the store after Mike Gingrich of Uplands Cheese won the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show Award for Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and today, the cheese counter with its 200 to 300 cheeses in it is a destination for travelers who come to Larry’s Market just to buy their cheese.

Most of the business rung up by the store’s 15 full and regular part-time employees, though, comes either at lunchtime or through the store’s catering business. The regular Friday grill-out events are also huge draws that bring 250 to 300 people into the store over the course of a couple of hours.

All told, the deli and catering departments represent about 60 to 70 percent of the business today. “We do a lot of corporate catering, so on any given day, we’ll have five people out delivering, and we can do 400 to 500 people for lunch, just catering,” Peterson said.

The typical lunchtime purchase for the 100 to 150 people who usually come in then is about $12 to $15, although customers will frequently spend $40 to $50 at a time if they’re also buying groceries and cheese. Among the most popular offerings are killer brownies, Wisconsin artisan cheeses and fresh soups, including the turkey chili that’s a particular favorite among Larry’s regulars. “We sell a ton of soup, summer and winter,” Peterson said. “Our local health inspector comes in for lunch quite often.”

JNB Salsas Finding Fans Across the Globe

By Lorrie Baumann

Barry Moore is known as “The Salsa Guy,” co-Founder of JNB Specialty Foods and the “B” in JNB, the company he cofounded with his son, Jason, in 2011 after his retirement from the U.S. Postal Service. “After I retired, I rode my motorcycle for six months and golfed. And then winter came,” he says.

JNBOnce the winter sent his motorcycle to its space in the garage, Moore decided to pick up the threads on an idea he’d been weaving with his son, a talented chef, Barry had been been making the Bruschetta from an old family recipe and serving to friends and family during the holidays. “Jason developed the Apple Corn salsa a year or two before the business started,” Moore says. “He cooked it when he was going to watch a football game with his friends. His friends all raved about it, and we decided that when I’d retired, we’d do the Bruschetta and the Apple Corn Salsa.”

The two launched their business with 24 cases of product that they took to a local Women’s Expo, where it became an instant hit. “We went there on Friday night, but on Sunday, we had three bottles of salsa left, and that was it,” Moore says. “At that very first event, we were approached by a grocery store that wanted to sell the products. They actually had someone at the show who tried it.”

From there, the JNB’s product line has grown to six products, now including Pineapple Salsa, Habanero Salsa, Red Pepper Salsa and Cranberry Chutney as well as the original Bruschetta and Apple Corn Salsa. “The products are all natural, gluten-free,” Moore says. “This is something that we developed ourselves. We didn’t copy it from anybody. We developed all these products ourselves, and we had a lot of fun doing it.”

“The Cranberry Chutney was because customers asked for something sweet,” he continues. “The Habanero was because customers asked for heat. The Pineapple was because customers asked for sweet heat.”

Although JNB is still selling product at local events, where Moore enjoys the social contact, the products are also sold in about 140 to 150 stores, including sales in China that have come about through trade missions sponsored by the state of New York. Those started about a year and a half ago, when New York asked him if he’d be interested in going on a trade trip to China if the state paid a portion of his expenses for the trip. “I went to Beijing, went to a free trade zone, and got some interest there,” he says. “In one week in China, I got some contacts and some distributors.”

That was in September, 2015, and then around the beginning of 2016, New York asked him if he’d be interested in another trip to a Chinese food show. “I said, ‘I guess I’ll do it,’ and so I went to Chengdu,” Moore says.

In the U.S., the JNB Specialty Foods Salsas retail for about $4.29 to $5.30 or so, depending on the market. “In a specialty market, they sell very well at $8 to $9,” Moore says. “It’s a wonderful product. The Cranberry Chutney is good over soft cheese or mixed with mayo for a turkey sandwich. Or you can use it straight as a dipping sauce for pork or chicken.”

“If you like pork or beef, the salsas will pair well,” he adds. “The Apple Corn Salsa makes a great stuffing for a pork shoulder.”
For more information, call 607.267.5874 or email barry@jnbfoods.com.

Gran Festa Italian Cheese Spreads from Bertozzi

bertozzi editphoto1Bertozzi Corporation of America’s Gran Festa line of Italian cheese spreads are artisanally crafted from high-quality whey, freshly ground spices and vegetables. They come in three varieties: Garlic & Herb, Pink Peppercorn and Sweet Chili.

Packaged in 8-ounce cups, a 2-tablespoon serving contains about 40 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 1.5 grams of protein. The gluten-free, preservative-free spreads have a light and airy texture and mouthfeel with a rich, creamy flavor profile.

Gran Festa is imported from the Bertozzi Creamery, an Italian family-owned dairy established in 1901.

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