2019 Outstanding Independents, Multistore: Walt Churchill's Market, Maumee OH
Walt Churchill’s Market (WCM), with two locations near Toledo, Ohio, is focused on two major themes: What’s for Dinner and Better Because. The two philosophies work in tandem to create a shopping experience for customers that meets their needs so they can feed their families.
“Our core customer is more interested in the quality than they are the price,” says Walt Churchill Jr., owner and CEO of the company that was founded by his grandfather in 1917 and run for decades by his father, affectionately known as the General. Both Churchill and his father divided their careers between the grocery business and the Marines. “Our customers don’t like to pay too much, but they’d rather get something good that they want.”
This means that the stores stock restaurant-quality meat and seafood, as well as a variety of specialty items.
“Like some of the better supermarkets, we are becoming more like a restaurant than we ever have been before,” Churchill adds.
The meat department sells dry-aged Waygu beef, veal, lamb, duck and select game when available, as well as ground bison. WCM offers five varieties of beef — USDA Choice Angus, tall grass, grain-finished, USDA Prime or Waygu — to meet whatever needs a customer has for beef. A large selection of housemade sausages is also available, and both stores additionally feature a smokehouse that imparts a unique flavor to aged and smoked selections.
The stores receive three weekly shipments of seafood from Boston, which allows the locations to offer daily and weekly specials and seasonal options. Both stores also feature sushi prepared by sushi chefs who have trained in some of the best restaurants in the country. The sushi is made from fresh ingredients in store, including non-GMO rice, and grab-and-go items are available all day, while custom orders are accepted during the lunch and dinner hours.
Easing Dinner Prep
Prepared foods also play an important role in both the What’s for Dinner and Better Because strategies. Nearly 90 percent of everything that the deli and prepared food department sells is prepared fresh in-house. The soup is created from stock made fresh in the stores, with a dozen varieties available every day. WCM also looks to local suppliers whenever possible to provide local, quality ingredients.
“We make it easy to put a meal on the table,”Churchill says.
WCM is also partnering with a local home company that sells furnishings and appliances.
Our guiding light is that we’re trying to make the home a better choice to eat,” he explains. “Us in the food, and them in the furnishings and appliances. When you’re eating at home, we want to make it something where you’re happy and it’s easy.”
As for the future of WCM, Churchill is looking at creating an employee stock-option plan (ESOP) to keep the stores running after he’s no longer involved in the business. Outside of the store, WCM has made its presence known in the wider community. For instance, Churchill, an active member in the Toledo Roadrunners, recently took part in the 51st running of the Churchill Marathon, the second-oldest foot race in Ohio.
Inside the stores, Churchill is a regular fixture — one beloved by customers, who often ask him whether he’s the boss. His invariable response: “No, we own the place, but you, the customer, you’re the boss.”