Decades have passed since Cedarville had a grocery store near the intersection of Routes 42 and 72. But now that resident Donna Hughes is in business, local options include everything from flour and sugar to apple butter barbecue sauce and wasabi mayonnaise.
Hughes recently opened Donna Jean’s Bulk Foods to sell products from several Amish food suppliers based in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Linda Curtis, who is managing the store, said she and Hughes will order bulk food products and break them into smaller quantities for consumers.
Hughes said this will allow people to buy exactly what they want for low prices.
“And everything will be fresh,” Curtis said, “because we’ll package it here.”
Hughes said the store will specialize in unique items like hard-to-find spices, old-fashioned candies and whole grains for people to grind into flour. She said she has also received many requests for trail bologna, cheese and Amish butter. Once fully stocked, Hughes said the store will sell more than 3,000 products.
This summer, Hughes began selling Amish jams, pickles and dips at the village farmers’ market. She said one of the most popular items, pickled garlic, surprised her because most people didn’t even want to try it.
“I say, ‘If you don’t like it, spit it out,’” Hughes said, “and they’ve been buying jars of it.”
Hughes said she will also offer a variety of organic, gluten-free and sugar-free products. These will include ready-made items like crackers and noodles as well as ingredients for baking. Hughes has some experience with gluten-free baking because of her wheat sensitivity and said she plans to sell ingredients for a featured recipe each week.
Hughes and Curtis said they have been friends for 16 years, ever since Hughes came to Cedarville.
“We’re like Lucy and Ethel,” Curtis said. “We get in trouble a little bit.”
Curtis is also a stylist at Hair Limits of Cedarville but said she has been in food service all her life. Hughes said she spent much of her time gardening and canning until her husband, Dale, died in 2007.
“Then when he passed away, it was a lull,” Hughes said, “from one extreme — super busy — to just nothing.”
Hughes said Curtis has been pestering her to open a bulk foods store ever since.
“It’s been six years, and I’ve got to find something to do. I need something to occupy my time,” Hughes said. “And I do believe this is going to be the thing,” she laughed.
Curtis said Donna Jean’s is required to have a complete kitchen, just like a restaurant, to break down and repackage bulk foods. Hughes said gluten-free products require special care because they must not be contaminated, and she will set aside a special day to handle them. Because the store has a complete kitchen, Curtis said she and Hughes may eventually expand to offer soups and sandwiches.
Cedarville student Elena Fouch said she thinks the store is good news for students who live off campus.
“I’m excited for Winner’s to have some competition,” she said.
Fouch rents a house on Main Street and said she would like to buy grocery staples from Donna Jean’s as well as specialty items.
“I’m a big fan of Indian cooking, and you need a ton of spices for that,” Fouch said. “That’s one thing that is so expensive at stores.”
Senior Becky Wunderlich, who also lives off campus, said she will definitely visit the store but would be most interested in buying fresh eggs and produce from a local business. Wunderlich, a nursing student, said she has met village residents who never leave Cedarville to buy groceries.
“I’m really excited, especially from a public health perspective, that there’s going to be a bigger variety of foods available,” Wunderlich said.
As Hughes considered opening a store, she said she was encouraged by the success of Troyer’s Marketplace in Johnstown, Ohio.
Larry Troyer opened the bulk foods store and deli with his family in 2010 and said business has far surpassed their expectations. The store is now staffed by six employees each day, and Troyer said it draws many local customers as well as people traveling a greater distance.
“I think it’s going to be a really neat thing for Cedarville,” said Bill Cernetic, who owns the building where Donna Jean’s is located. “I’ve been traveling two and a half hours to buy what she’s selling here.”
Mike Horsley, manager of Cedarville Hardware, said he isn’t sure whether the community will support the new store.
“Cedarville’s kind of an odd town,” he said. “But a lot of people say they go to Amish country to get this, and there’s great excitement.”
Tony Pergram, who owns the Barber of the Ville and serves on the village council, said he doesn’t think a bulk foods store in Cedarville will have the same attraction.
“We’re not an Amish community,” he said. “It’s not the same atmosphere as Holmes County – it’s not like you’re going to see a horse and buggy going down the road.”
But Curtis said she was adamant about bringing Donna Jean’s to her hometown.
“A bulk foods store has to be in a town that will accept it,” she said. “Donna thought about some other towns to put it in, but I said, ‘We’ve got to do Cedarville.’”
Jenni Hodges is a senior journalism major and design director for Cedars. She loves words, ideas and interviews but can’t resist an opportunity to walk outside and work with her hands.