Froehlich’s: Moving beyond the status quo

Published 9:58 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The countdown is on. Santa arrives in just a few days. He’s checking his list and as you check yours: PANIC!

You may want to make a pleasant drive down U.S. 12 to Three Oaks. Turn right at the light and about two blocks down Elm Street you will note a sign

Off the Water photo/KATHIE HEMPEL Clay Drake, 10, often guides visitors through his mom's shop. One of his favorite items is the circular saw replica that is an ergonomically correct pizza cutter.

announcing Froehlich’s.

This century-old building evokes a sense of calm: The ambience takes you back to a time when one-stop shopping meant the general store with aromas of  freshly baked bread and spices to homemade preserves and jellies.

Floor to ceiling, Froehlich’s is to the last-minute shopper what the cave of treasure is to an archeologist.

Owner Colleen Froehlich’s first career was as a photographer and representative to other photographers and illustrators. The shelves are displayed in balanced, picture-perfect collections sporting aprons, oven mitts and kitchen utensils or cookie jars with gift cards for homemade baked goods.

“When someone asks what we do at our shop, even we have a difficult time answering,” Froehlich says. “It’s a deli and bake shop, but then again it is a unique gift shop …. we cater events large and small.”

“The building was falling down,” said Froehlich, who gets emotional when she remembers the first time she crossed the threshold of the structure. “It was a wreck with mold and rodents. It was a disaster, but I could see it all as it is today .… I saw the skylight in my mind’s eye and just knew it would be OK.”

That was 20 years ago, when the young entrepreneur slept on the floor. She had sold all she had at garage sales and cashed out everything else to follow her dream.

“People say they would love a shop like this, but few would go through what I did to get here,” said Froehlich, whose store is completing its 18th season. “There was nothing downtown, and my family thought I was crazy. Some days, I just thought if it didn’t work out I would be living in the little area there over the neon sign.”

The brightly lit sign harkens back to where the dream began. Her family had a grocery store in St. Joseph, where Niles Avenue meets Red Arrow Highway; the current location of Mickey’s Pub. Froehlich would walk there after classes at Trinity School to help her grandfather, who worked behind the grocery’s meat counter.

“I would help him as he made sausages and cut meat. Then if I got too rambunctious, Grandpa would tell me to go upstairs, where his family lived, to help my grandmother make the potato salad: a salad I still make here today,” she said.

Froehlich, an expert “no-recipe” style of cook, who the previous week had prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for a group of 25 men meeting in the area. The weekend before, she prepared lasagna for 70.

Nothing is status quo here. At Froehlich’s, there are not just pecan pies but more than pecan pie, with Brazil, cashews and hazelnuts. Or amaze guests with her Famous Michigan Mud Pie or Whoopi pies.

From the large kitchen come the relishes and jams packed into baskets for any budget.

Around one corner, there is a collection of cookbooks. Look up to see wrought iron racks for hanging pots and pans over the kitchen island. On one wall, there are shelves full of kitchen and serving accessories.

Minute minders are hidden in what appears to be Russian nesting dolls.  A soft calla lily turns out to be a funnel. Here is a very large mouse trap that, on second look, reveals itself to be a cheese slicer with cutting board, and there, what looks like a woman in a magician’s box, about to be sawn in two, but no, it is a knife sharpener.

Meet up with Froehlich’s top salesman, her son, Clay Drake, 10, who may suggest the perfect gift for the man who loves his pizza: an ergonomically correct, comfortable-to-use pizza cutter, shaped like a circular saw.

Clay will point to his favorites, boxes of matches, the perfect size whether lighting the fire or candles, packaged in farm animal-themed boxes. Or a cooler filled with various sausages and chesses such as Brie, sage and port wine derby, Rosie goat cheese and Clay’s favorite greyer.

“I love fondue,” he said.

Among the relishes, jams and pickles, find some of the three fruit syrups from this year’s crop: raspberry, blueberry or strawberry.  If you are lucky, you might find Froehlich’s renowned martini pickles, created one year when an early frost threatened the still-green miniature tomatoes yet on the vine of her 6- to 7-acre vegetable garden.

“It’s been exciting. We’ve had articles in Cooking Light, Midwest Magazine and USA Today. I just got a call from Midwest Magazine saying we had been selected for their Best of the Midwest issue in February,” said Froelich, whose dream is now a well-earned reality.

Experience Froehlich’s  up close and personal at 26 North Elm St. in Three Oaks. Call (269) 756-6002 for more information.