Sunday, February 23, 2003

Silverglades focus on unique foods

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Al Silverglade was born into the specialty foods business and learned many a Cincinnati food tradition at his parents' side at Findlay Market. But it was a taste of the world as a young adult that inspired him to extend and enrich the palates of Cincinnati residents.

For more than 75 years, Silverglade's has been encouraging folks to say "cheese." It's just that the vocabulary has now expanded, from cheddar and other standard varieties in the early years to regional specialties from France and other countries.

    In addition to being an enduring presence at Findlay Market and celebrating more than a decade at 6660 Clough Pike in Anderson Township, Silverglade's is back downtown. In 2002 the company opened a sandwich shop at Fourth and Plum, 37 years after the Silverglade's on Sixth Street closed.
    The family is cooking up a new location as well, hoping to open a new store at Eighth and Sycamore this spring. It will have a complete kitchen to allow for a restaurant and catering. Al Silverglade hopes to put in a wine store adjacent to the food market, then host wine and cheese tastings.
    "We're never afraid to take a risk as long as we've looked it through," said Michael Silverglade. "Our father has always taught us the value of location, location, location; and our name helps us, too. We've been surprised and grateful."
    Information: 231-6483.
"My dad started in Findlay Market in the '20s," recalled Silverglade. "Dad started as a draftsman, then went to work distributing Kraft products. Then he figured if he could sell a thousand pounds of cheese a week for Kraft, he could sell some of that for himself.

"He started with a stand outside Findlay and a little bitty scale and a sharp knife. He got cheese from a local distributor and baked goods from local bakeries. Dad was a very good salesman; he could sell a lady a suit with two pairs of pants to bury her husband in."

The Silverglades had secured a booth inside the market by the time young Al came along. They were among the first to install a refrigerated case and kept adding to their inventory as the years went by.

In 1935, Al's father opened a store on Sixth Street; when the couple divorced a few years later, Mrs. Silverglade kept the Findlay Market outlet and her husband focused on building business on Sixth Street. Al Silverglade helped out at both locations through high school.

During the Korean War, Al Silverglade served with the Air Force. His postings proved an education.

"He was stationed in Paris, France, and several other places," said his son Michael. "He had all kinds of ideas after seeing all the cheeses there. When he came back, he started taking over the cheese stand."

At first Silverglade worked full time outside the family business and spent his Saturdays at Findlay, trying to build up volume. Gradually he began to diversify the business, adding varieties of cheese, a pickle stand and then a bakery stand.

At its peak, the Silverglade enterprise at the Over-the-Rhine market consisted of two double stands, each about 28 feet long, that sold cheeses, deli meats, baked goods and pickles. Fifteen to 20 workers stayed busy behind the counter each Saturday.

The family still has two stands at Findlay, on the west end of the markethouse. Al Silverglade works one of the stands on most Saturdays, the market's busiest day.

"My brother Craig and I were born into the business," said Michael Silverglade. "We started at market when we were about 8 years old, and we each stood on the same milk crate so we could take care of customers."

Having seen the specialty markets in Europe and in ethnic neighborhoods of New York and Chicago, Al Silverglade sought to emulate them, but with a more diverse assortment of products. The problem, he said, was that Cincinnati didn't have the ethnic populations to readily support the concept. So he worked to educate Cincinnatians to appreciate little-known specialties of other cultures.

The rise of food cooperatives in Cincinnati nudged Silverglade toward a more comprehensive endeavor. He realized that most of the parish and neighborhood groups who were buying cheese in bulk were in Anderson Township. Believing that area would support an eclectic food market, he located a building on Clough Pike.

"My dad's vision was to bring the whole-market concept to Anderson Township," said Michael Silverglade. "When we opened there in 1991, we had never before been in produce or fresh meats."

"We just try to do the best we can and improve on each and every situation," said his father. "We were here (in Anderson Township) for a number of years before we could change the produce department around the way we wanted it. We've installed scanners; they're expensive, but they speed up the checkout process."

Both Michael and Craig Silverglade have come a long way since their days on the milk crate.

"Michael is incredibly knowledgeable about wines. He also runs our wholesale business and our Fourth Street location," said Al Silverglade. "Craig is our stand-up guy who negotiates contracts; he's very straightforward. When we open our Eighth Street store, he will run it."

"Our father has been our education," Michael said. "We've watched him and worked with him. We go to the fancy food show in New York every year with him. We've been to the wine country and have met the winemakers, learning about different varietals."

Al Silverglade knows about every item in his store, from the flavored olive oils to the double Devon cream, the gravalox and the fruit preserves. He and his sons also know their customers and their tastes.

"I constantly add varieties of cheeses, buying directly from France," he said. "That enables me to carry products no distributor has. I fill up the cases with that kind of product."


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