Part of the fun of traveling involves making connections with new foods and friends.
Thus, as The Old Dutch Store owner Sharon Van Schelt-Humphries took me on a tour of her venerable Sugar House establishment on a recent morning, memories came flooding back.
I craved the bitterballen pub food I once tried in Amsterdam, a dish the store at 2696 Highland Drive sometimes serves on Saturdays along with the similar kroketten. The smell of red cabbage coming from the deli near the rear of the store made me recall trips to Germany and Austria. Sharon’s 90 kinds of European licorice helped me remember trying to develop a taste for the salty, unsweetened type of my favorite candy.
About a year ago, four friends from the Netherlands came to stay with my wife, Nancy, and me at our Taylorsville home to experience Utah skiing, enjoy some outdoor adventures and take a snowmobile trip to Yellowstone. As gifts, they brought us stroopwaffels, a honey-coated Dutch cookie, and sweet chocolate shavings they often sprinkle on breakfast toast.
Nancy asked me to bring her home some and, sure enough, Sharon had them in stock. She said the stroopwaffels are imported regularly because they fly off the shelves.
Adrian Groos opened this unique store in 1978. Sharon’s father, Peter, who remains a Dutch Store icon to this day, helped at the deli counter and used skills learned at Miller Meats and Siegfried’s deli to make a variety of Old World sausages. Sharon actually worked with her dad making sausages when she was in seventh grade.
Though he knows how to make 60 kinds of sausages, Peter concentrates on about seven these days. Sharon says customers come from all over to purchase his bratwurst.
He is passing down many of these skills to Sharon’s daughter Katie Reid, who is helping to develop different types of traditional food items. The store recently expanded to add a larger kitchen. Not all of these recipes are easy to prepare. Many have hard-to-find European ingredients.
Peter, a friendly man with sparkling blue eyes who is now in his 80s, found out that the store was for sale. Sharon and her late husband, Glenn, purchased it in 2003.
"What we offer is quality," Sharon said. "We have the best ingredients in our bratwurst. Our cheese comes off the wheels and is not prepackaged. We slice it to order."
Indeed, as someone who has experienced a European breakfast that often includes cold cuts and sliced cheeses along with hard rolls, I felt like sampling each of the many meats and cheeses found inside the deli counter.
Though the word "Dutch" is on the name, the store actually sells a number of foods from Europe including German, Swedish and Norwegian. Some foods are similar. Others are unique to their country of origin. In addition to aisles of unusual foods including many types of European chocolate, the store sells wooden Dutch shoes and tulips.
Sharon imports most of the packaged food items from Europe, many out of the Rotterdam port. She is working with some local bakers to produce traditional marzipan cake and a butter cake called boterkoek. Nancy and I tried boterkoek, an almond-tasting pastry, and it was amazing.
Christmas is a particularly busy time as Dutch people flock to the store to purchase traditional items such as chocolate letters that either spell a person’s name or are the first letter of a name. Sharon orders 10,000 letters alone.
The Old Dutch Store offers a place filled with European delicacies designed to help natives remember their homeland, Americans recall their heritages and travelers such as me savoring foods sampled in far-away destinations.
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