When I saw the phone number, I had a feeling this was my kind of place: 845-FOOD. Paoli Local Foods opened in June in what is likely the area's top biking destination, and it has quickly built a following among hungry residents, bikers and visitors alike.
"We serve artisan foods in an artisan town," says owner Ken Ruegsegger of the store he operates with his wife, Sherrie.
The full-service grocery store carries meat, dairy, organic produce and eggs from more than 70 local producers. Besides being local, the products on those shelves contain no trans fats or high-fructose corn syrup. The Ruegseggers' also offer a variety of prepared foods, including lasagna, buffalo burgers, soup, pork and chicken sandwiches, smoothies and pie. Fresh bread comes in four times a week. On a recent visit to the store I sampled delicious homemade salsa, smoothies and pie - successfully, and happily, ruining my appetite for the dinner I had been on my way to enjoy.
Although the storefront is new, Ken Ruegsegger sees the store as more of an expansion of the services he and his family have been offering for many years. He and Sherrie have been raising and marketing their hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, pork, veal, lamb, eggs, chicken, bison and ostrich on their Blanchardville farm since the early 1990s. Selling first at area farmers' markets, they then began a home delivery service for their products as well as goods from other local farms. The opening of Paoli Local Foods, according to Ken, simply gave them a "home base."
"Customer requests and demand for local foods led to the store," he says. "Paoli was where we set up our first farm stand, so it's an appropriate place for our first store."
The customer base the Ruegseggers have built through the years proved critical to the opening of the store. Customers invested $1,100 in community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares to finance the store, receiving, in exchange, $100 a month in store credit for a year. In explaining his financing structure, Ken says, "Banks don't shop here, customers do, and we would rather see the people that support us receive the benefit of a discount." So far 30 people have purchased shares in the store.
Paoli Local Foods is in a former machine shop that Ken and Sherrie renovated themselves. The store includes a kitchen out of which they serve up their prepared foods using products from the store.
The Ruegseggers will continue to sell their meats at farmers' markets in and around Madison, as well as through their home delivery service. Future plans for the store include the addition of a patio for outside dining. Several other towns have also approached the Ruegseggers about opening local food stores in their towns. While Ken remains open to the idea, he wants to master running one store first.
"We've built our reputation on our quality, and I wouldn't want to compromise that for anything," he says.