A casual conversation in the jarred food aisle of Heritage Family Market in Fincastle led me to an amazing discovery over in the deli.
“Try the sweet bologna,” Denise Reiss told me. “It’s the best.”
Reiss didn’t lead me astray. After procuring a sample slice of Lebanese sweet bologna, I was sold. A half-pound of this mildly seasoned meat, along with a slab of Havarti dill cheese, and I had the makings of a delicious lunch for my family.
That’s just one example of the hundreds of food items at the new deli/dry goods store, which is located just a few miles from where Reiss lives in Fincastle.
Reiss, who was shopping with friends visiting from Canada the day we chatted, said she loves the new market.
“I am thankful they put it here,” she said, going on to recommend a raspberry and white chocolate trail mix that is “to die for.”
Heritage Family Market opened in mid-December, which co-owner Tim Weaver admits is a risky time to be entering the food business. But the clientele has been steadily building, and most days business is brisk in the county seat of Botetourt.
Fincastle didn’t fit the precise definition of a food desert, but it was an underserved community for groceries. The nearest supermarkets for the town’s residents and those who live in northern Botetourt County are Food Lion and Kroger in Daleville, seven miles south of where Heritage Family Market opened in what was formerly a doctor’s office.
Now, the 4,000-square foot space is half retail — a deli counter, dairy and frozen food sections, and shelves of dry and canned goods — and half warehouse, office space and food prep/bakery.
The aromatherapy of fresh baked bread and cinnamon rolls may be the best reason to visit the store in the morning.
Behind the deli counter, customers will find more than 30 varieties of Troyer meats and cheeses. Weaver said this brand was chosen because of the quality and consistency of the product, which he said are whole muscle meats that are free of MSG.
Troyer, headquartered in Millersburg, Ohio, also supplies most of Heritage Family Market’s private label jar goods, which includes black raspberry jam, a personal favorite that brings back memories of my Midwestern childhood.
Weaver said much of the store’s inventory comes from Amish suppliers in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but several Virginia-produced items are on the store’s shelves as well. Eggs are free-range and farm fresh from Troutville; cornmeal is procured from Big Spring Mill in Elliston; Vermont has nothing on the sweet maple syrup tapped in McDowell, a small town near Staunton.
While Heritage offers plenty of pre-packaged goods, many of the spices, flours, candies and nuts are purchased in bulk and packaged at the store.
Weaver said he and co-owner Paul Beiler want to bring a variety of items to the store, including organics and sugar- and gluten-free products. While there is no fresh meat (other than deli meat) or produce in the store, there are flash-frozen fruits and veggies and all-Jersey cow milk from Duchess Dairy Products in Rural Retreat.
Weaver and Beiler came to Fincastle from Greene County to start a Mennonite congregation, which now meets every Sunday in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church’s youth center from 10 a.m. to noon. Opening the market was a way for the two families to earn a living while building the ministry.
The store has a few employees, but members of the two families, including help from the younger generation, do most of the work.
“We care about our children and the work ethics they are developing,” Weaver said.
Heritage Family Market is a win for Fincastle, according to town manager David Tickner.
“It’s pretty significant for us,” Tickner said.
He said he hopes the success of the market will spur other opportunities for economic growth in the area. Besides being a convenience to Fincastle residents, he said he thinks the market will attract shoppers from beyond Botetourt who appreciate the country market experience.
“It’s a lot closer than Stuart’s Draft,” he said, referring to the Cheese Shop, a family-owned Amish-style bulk foods store in Augusta County.
Weaver agrees that having a store closer to the heart of Botetourt County provides an attractive option to rural shoppers.
“We are in an economy where the dollar matters,” he said. “If you save yourself 20 miles of driving, that’s worth something.”
Reiss, who introduced me to that wonderful sweet bologna, said she shops the store at least once a week. The experience reminds her of shopping in Pennsylvania Amish country, where her daughter lives.
“You can’t beat the prices on spices here,” she said, “and they are all extremely nice people.”
Tickner said his experience shopping at Heritage has introduced him to a new food — quinoa — a seed that can be cooked like a whole grain.
“We mix it with black beans and my family loves it,” he said.
Lorene Crawford of Salem made her first visit to Heritage Family Market on a Saturday morning and was delighted to find apple butter, pickled beets and yogurt-covered raisins. Her shopping buddy, Dereta Perry of Troutville, enjoys shopping the small market for its clean, cheerful decor, friendly service and well-stocked shelves.
Wendy Falls of Buchanan, who was shopping with her future daughter-in-law Lacee Mixon and her 8-year-old granddaughter Bronwyn, said she could spend hours just perusing the shelves for hard-to-find items such as pickled baby corn.
“I’ll be telling everyone about this place,” she said. “I just can’t believe the variety.”
As far as plans to expand the inventory, Weaver said that the store might feature some fresh produce in season, depending on availability and space. Right now, the plan is to continue to offer canned, boxed and bagged groceries, frozen items and fresh deli meats and cheeses.
“We want to do what we do well,” he said. The customer response, he said, has been overwhelmingly positive, and he and Beiler want to continue to concentrate on providing quality products at reasonable prices for Fincastle.
“We want to be here a long time,” he said. “It’s a beautiful combination of Southern hospitality and a strong community.”