A History of Commitment to Community

2012-02-19T00:00:00Z A History of Commitment to Community nwitimes.com
February 19, 2012 12:00 am

For over 80 years, Strack & Van Til has been offering Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland with the finest quality products at the best value. This full-service grocery and fresh good store is committed to the complete satisfaction of their customers and they strive to be recognized as the leading full service food store, exceeding customer expectations today, and into the new millennium.

Ernie Strack grew up on his father's farm in Germany before coming to America to work as a farmer's helper delivering vegetables. He began working at a grocery store in 1928 and worked his way through the ranks, from weighing sugar and flour, to clerk, to manager. In 1930 he began managing a meat department at a friend's grocery store and soon entered into business with him as a partner. In 1946 he built an additional store and grew the business with an ethic of hard work and dedication to his customers. Five decades ago, Strack found a business partner who also shared this same ethic, taking care of each individual customer's needs and working diligently to serve the community.

In 1960, Strack joined with Nick Van Til who began his work in the late 1920s as a young grocery delivery boy in Hammond. In 1936 he entered into a business with his employer who soon sold the business to Van Til. He grew the business by adding shelving meat cases and began buying produce and products from local suppliers and growers, including fresh dressed chickens. He continued to personally deliver groceries a practice that is still employed today when utility clerks carry groceries to customers' cars. Van Til took the time for the extras, such as opening his store early so those on their way to work could have freshly baked items for breakfast. He taught these philosophies of hard work and extra care for the customer to his wife and children who also helped to work in the store.

The tradition of quality and integrity is one that began decades ago with these two local grocers who had a vision for bringing the freshest food to the community in Northwest Indiana. "Mr. Van Til and my grandfather, Ernie Strack, had stores in the region 80 years ago and they opened their first store together in October 1960 in Highland. That store is still there today," says Jeff Strack, vice president of operations for Strack & Van Til. Today, the company is Northwest Indian's largest independent grocery operator. "We're very humbled about what we have been able to do but more importantly we are very excited for future opportunities to grow our company" says Strack. That growth includes the opening of a new store in Cedar Lake, Indiana in late 2012 or early 2013.

The commitment to community and customers has allowed Strack & Van Til to bring growth to the region. "We care about what the consumer wants and we adjust to their demands," says Strack whose personal email address and phone number is printed on every grocery bag that leaves his stores. "We do this because we really believe you can build or lose a business one customer at a time, so we value what every customer has to say," he says.

Strack & Van Til is also successful because of the dedicated efforts of their associates and the commitment to their training and development. The company remains dedicated to the communities they serve by supporting organizations and events that enhance the quality of life. "We've supported the public for over 80 years and give back support to the community through a variety of organizations and events. Being part of the community is very important to us," says Strack.

One of the ways that Strack & Van Til is involved in the community is through their dedication to the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. Joe Kolavo is a vice president at Strack & Van Til who also serves on the board of directors for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. "Strack & Van Til has been involved with the Food Bank through board membership for over 15 years and our associates have participated in virtually every major fundraising event. One of the largest events is Check Out Hunger. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, our customers can support the Food Bank at the check out by choosing different denominations of vouchers, available for purchase from our cashiers," says Kolavo. Strack & Van Til raised just under $75,000 during the 2011 holiday season. Strack & Van Til, along with the UFCW and Smithfield Pork, coordinated two donations of ham and other fresh pork product to the Food Bank totaling over 70,000 pounds. One donation was just in time for Easter, while the other donation arrived in time for Christmas.

The Strack & Van Til company encompasses 16 Strack & Van Til stores, two Town & Country stores, and 13 Ultra Food stores in Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland. The new Cedar Lake location will break ground this spring and they plan to open in late 2012 or early 2013. The result will be a 49,583-square-foot store at the site of the old Wilco Foods and will offer all of the departments and foods that customers have come to expect from Strack & Van Til. Ultra Foods in Crestwood, IL is coming in 2012.

It is because of the fantastic quality of foods that customers return to Strack & Van Til to put meals on their tables each night, and when family or friendly gathers beckon, Strack & Van Til also offers their catering services. Freshly prepared salads, made-from-scratch bakery items, and an assortment of other selections are on the Strack & Van Til menu to easily bring to any function. For taste, value, and ease, Strack & Van Til's catering department has been named the Times Best of the Region by Times readers, and the entire Strack & Van Til food chain has also received this coveted award.



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