Secret Recipe for Success

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Deemer’s Supermarket Gives Wheelersburg the Hometown Feel

Two of the most famous secret recipes belong to Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The actual recipes are kept in impenetrable vaults, and only a few trusted souls know the ingredients that go into making those world-famous delicacies.

For the past few decades, there’s been a third, super clandestine member of that secret recipe club: Mrs. Deemer’s Potato Salad.

8-deemers-groceryIt’s one of the local favorites at Deemer’s Super Market in Wheelersburg, Ohio, where the Deemer family is deep in its fifth generation of service to the community.

Mrs. Deemer is Anna Deemer, wife of Forrest E. “Frosty” Deemer Sr., founder of the store. She’s the grandmother of the current owner Ed Deemer, or more formally Forrest E. Deemer III, who sat in his tiny office at the front of the store on Center Street, talking about the family’s legacy in the community.

He fondly remembers starting to work at the store at age 13 under the tutelage of his grandfather, Forrest E. Deemer Sr., and his father Forrest E. “Sonny” Deemer Jr. During the store’s history, Ed’s sister Dianna and his uncle Ronald and his daughter Cindy Deemer Parkes worked there as well.

But, it wasn’t all work.  Ed recalls a family fondness for baseball and has a faraway smile as he recalls being a batboy on the baseball team where his father and grandfather played, as did Gene Tenace, who went on to play for the Oakland Athletics. Ed’s kind eyes turn to steel when the conversation drifts to his grandmother’s recipe for potato salad.

When new employees start in the deli, they’re sworn to a lifetime of secrecy about the recipes during the time they work at the store and afterward.

“You can’t give away the recipes, if you do, we’ll find you,” Ed said, peering over his glasses. It’s clear he’s kidding, but maybe not. Perhaps it’s best not to trifle with Grandma’s recipes.

It’s one of the homemade delights in the famed deli section, handmade along with the ham salad and dill dip that bring people from around the region to the store. Stopping at Deemer’s deli is a must-do when folks who’ve moved out of town come back for a visit.

Cindy Deemer Parkes, librarian at Clay Local Schools and the family’s unofficial historian, provided history dating back to the original Deemer’s founded by her generation’s great-grandfather, Harvey Deemer. He opened Deemer’s & Son in the Triangle (the corner of Harding Avenue and Mayo Street) in Sciotoville, Ohio, and was in business until 1935.

Then in 1947, Forrest E. “Frosty” Deemer Sr. bought Blackburn’s Market in New Boston, Ohio, and was in business there until 1952.  In 1952, Frosty established Deemer’s Supermarket, located on Ohio River Road east of the Rt. 140 intersection.

In July 1966, after the state purchased the property on Ohio River Road to construct the present State Route 52, Deemer’s Market moved to its present location on Center Street and Hayport Road in Wheelersburg.

That’s where Ed got his start in the family business. Today, he’s passing on the accumulated wisdom to his son Forrest E. “Eddie” Deemer IV. Eddie’s young son is Bryson, who’s breaking the naming legacy, which is actually a good thing. “It can get confusing, especially when you go to the same doctor,” Ed said.

The family recipes are only one part of the store’s traditional approach. The store buys local produce whenever possible, including plump sweet corn from Tommy Turner’s farm about two miles out of town.

Most of the male employees in the store wear a shirt and tie every day. “My grandfather started that, and we’ve kept it going,” Ed said. “I’ve worn a tie ever since I started working here.”

The store has given many young men and women their first jobs as baggers and cashiers. Some have stayed over the years, starting fresh out of high school or college and creating a career. “I think it says something for a business when people stay there a long time,” Ed said.

Local folks like to go in there because you usually run into someone you know.

“When we go there, it’s old home week, we give each other hugs, it’s like walking into the Cheers bar, everyone knows your name,” said Kim Bauer, executive director of the Portsmouth-Scioto County Visitors Bureau and a frequent Deemer’s shopper.

Along with the local produce and deli treats, Bauer likes the store’s meat counter and team of experienced butchers. “If I’m having a barbecue, I can call them and order a cut at a certain weight, and they’ll have it deboned and tied up for me when I get there,” Bauer said.

While the potato salad recipe may be secret, the real secret to the longevity of Deemer’s Market is the family atmosphere and support of the high school and local groups through fundraisers and donations. Like many things in life, you get out of a town what you put into it.

“The store has been good to our family, and we like to help out in the community where we can,” Ed said.

 

Photos Ashley Gallaher Quinn

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Gary Wollenhaupt