Every region has its own rules, rituals, and recipes. These cultural peculiarities define us.
Traces of them are found in our schools, in our churches, and in our businesses ... well, at least in our local businesses. Unfortunately, many of America’s regional distinctions are lost through mega-chain merchandising, in which the big-box store in Bountiful is intentionally identical to the big-box store in Baton Rouge. This is not an entirely bad business approach. It makes perfect sense from a managerial standpoint, but sadly it minimizes quirky local preferences and traditions. That is why ketchup- and-mayo loving Utahns can indulge in fry sauce by the gallon at Crown Burger, but Burger King won’t serve a drop of it.
Of course, fry sauce is not the only food that sells better in Clearfield than in Cleveland. Utah has a much-lampooned fanaticism for green Jell-O and funeral potatoes as well, which brings me to story that illustrates the benefit of supporting locally owned businesses.
One of our unique local traditions is the Utah version of the post-funeral luncheon. For one reason or another, I have had the opportunity to coordinate a large number of these. While the circumstances, the guests, and the honoree (of course) are different each time, the menu in Utah stays remarkably unchanged. Thus the big question is not what food to bring, but how much of it.
I had developed a fairly good handle on the nuances of the funeral food count, until a large group of high school chums unexpectedly drove 250 miles to honor a departed former class-mate. Suddenly, we had three times more guests than we anticipated. When the “neighborly ladies committee” realized they could only slice the ham so thin, they decided to do the unthinkable and call in commercially prepared supplies. They convened an emergency huddle in the church kitchen and asked the question, “what local store is most likely to have a funeral luncheon to-go?”
The answer was immediate and unanimous: “Dick’s Market!”
As the person deemed least capable of doing anything of value in the kitchen, I was volunteered to make the dash to Dick’s. I called the deli counter as I drove. “We’re in the middle of a funeral luncheon and we are out of food,” was all I said.
“Oh dear,” came the immediate and heartfelt response.
My heart sank. Then, after just a few seconds, the sympathetic clerk said, “Well, we’ve got plenty of sliced ham that I can pop in the microwave for you. We have a brand new pan of warm potatoes. You can just bring the pan back later. There’s plenty of Jell-o and cookies already; we’ll set some aside for you. How many extra people do you have?” she asked.
“Forty,” I said sheepishly. She took it completely in stride.
I arrived a few moments later and found both deli clerks busily wrapping and bagging my order.”
Thanks to local employees, local management, and local sensibilities, I was in and out with a perfectly customized, perfectly suited funeral meal for 40 people in a matter of minutes. Thanks Bountiful Dick’s Market, and don’t worry about your pan. As you well know from local custom, I have to fill it with something equally tasty before I can bring it back ... and that’s a tall order.
John Pitt is an economic development executive for Logistic Specialties, Inc.