East Union Bulk Food
Like family heirlooms, values can be passed down from one generation to the next. When Grandpa (Christian) Schlabach and his wife Emma purchased a small bulk food store in 1983, he knew it had the potential to grow. Christian had spent most of his life in the farming industry, but in 1981, he took his first step away from farming and opened a greenhouse. Despite the success, running a greenhouse was too seasonal for Christian, he was looking for something year round. In 1983, he got his wish when he purchased an existing bulk food store. When he took over East Union Bulk Food, the store’s offerings were minimal; selling flour, peanut butter, baking supplies, and a few types of candy.
East Union Bulk Food has a wide variety of fresh seasonal produce.
In 2000, Christian and Emma wanted to slow down. Their son (Alfred) and his wife (Barbara) bought the business while Alfred worked full time at a local sawmill. Alfred’s son, Jake, helped out around the store and gradually took over managment. Jake’s childhood was largely shaped by his experience around the store, “I remember helping Grandpa weigh out gummy bears when I was 8 or 9. The bears came in 5lb bags, but I learned that if I was careful enough, I could get five one pound bags and still have two left over gummy bears for me.” East Union Bulk Foods grew at a steady pace, but Jake wanted to take it to the next level. He wanted to reach the potential his grandfather always saw. In 2002, the family introduced deli meats and cheese. Sales nearly doubled as the new deli drew in more customers. With record sales, East Union Bulk Food was outgrowing its space, prompting Alfred and Jake to expand the storefront in 2004. In 2009, Alfred’s son in law (Roy) came on board to help with the growing family business before helping with a move across the parking lot to the current facility in 2011.
In January of this year, a new 4,000 square foot expansion allowed East Union to better serve their customers. With new space came new products, including frozen foods and a wider selection of produce. Jake credits the success to two people: a salesman from one of the store’s suppliers and Grandpa Schlabach. He explains, “At age 16, one of the salesmen took me under his wing and taught me more about business than I ever could have learned in school. He really shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today. Grandpa instilled values in me. He stressed the importance of being honest and serving the customer, getting to know them and becoming their friend. Friendship creates loyalty and keeps our customers from feeling like a number.”
Grandpa Schlabach passed away in 2017, but not before he had the chance to see his humble beginnings grow to a multi-generational business. No matter how big the store gets, the values that he passed on remain at the core of the business today. What’s next for East Union Bulk Food and the Schlabach Family? Maintaining growth and grooming a possible 4th generation. Roy’s daughters have worked at the store and Jake and Roy’s young sons are involved. According to Roy, “right now, their responsibility is keeping the hitching rail area clean. Everyone has to start somewhere.”
As a show of gratitude for the support the community has given over the years, East Union Bulk Food is excited to be hosting their annual Customer Appreciation Days. On July 25th and 26th, from 8am to 5pm, customers can stop by the store for free homemade ice cream, giveaways, samples, sales and specials throughout the store. Stop in at 9089 East Lincoln Way in Orrville, OH or give them a call at 330.682.2100
Arial view of East Union Bulk Foods