by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
The hot asphalt off David Crockett Parkway cuts a swift trail through Belvidere, and just off that well-worn path, Swiss Pantry beckons for a pause with a cold drink and cowboy cookie.
Stapled to a highway but tucked into the heart of a Mennonite community for almost three decades, the store and bakery has called to the sweet and savory side of both travelers and locals.
Enos and Charlotte Miller moved to Belvidere from Virginia in the summer of 1987 and the dairy farmer and his wife bought a house and needed extra money to pay the mortgage. Charlotte was known for sharing baked treats with her neighbors and soon they and others started offering to pay for her sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls.
The family constructed Swiss Pantry, about half the size it is now, and the Millers had a haven for their customers.
“We could tell there was a demand and there was nothing like it in the area, and we felt this is the way God was leading us to go,” Charlotte said.
Enos’s three sisters moved down from Virginia to help and the Miller family was selling enough baked treats and bulk goods so that Swiss Pantry doubled in size after two years.
“Sourdough bread was our staple back then as were our cowboy cookies and those two are still, outside of the donuts, our bestsellers,” Charlotte said.
The youngest of the Miller children is currently learning to make sourdough bread and all eight of their kids, seven boys and one girl, ages 14 to 34, have been raised in the business.
“When we first opened we had two kids, well three, I was pregnant with the third one,” she said. “They have all learned how to cook and every last one of them has had specific jobs that they’ve had to do here.”
Charlotte has also watched her customers’ children grow up in the Swiss Pantry, like one woman whose grandmother always brought her in for a happy face cookie.
“She has grown up, gotten married and has kids of her own and now she’s bringing her kids in here for the same thing,” Charlotte said. “And that’s just really cool to me that there’s this ongoing loyalty from our customers.”
Swiss Pantry offers an array of in-house baked goods, as well as meats, cheeses and plenty of other items, such as spices, candy, snacks and sandwiches. Some of the goodies in the store come from other Mennonite/Amish communities in Langston County, Penn., or Holmes County, Ohio.
She said Mennonite communities can vary greatly, but they form a large network of people willing to help.
“They are very much supportive of each other,” Charlotte said. “Anytime there are needs both in the community and among each other, they’re very good at helping to meet those needs.”
Local area vendors also provide goods for the Pantry, a handful of which include Triple T Cattle Farms’ beef, Mama Sue’s bath products, Nature’s Wealth poultry, and fudge from SteBe Cakery.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 26, the store is hosting a “Vendor & Customer Appreciation Event,” which will allow area vendors to showcase their wares, Miller said. In addition, the store is offering 20 percent off on everything except baked goods.
One loyal customer, Lane Price, an oncologist who splits time between homes in Monteagle and Decatur, Ala., often stops at the Swiss Pantry on her way. Price said she likes the consistency of the store’s quality and especially enjoys their Brunswick stew and sourdough bread.
“People there are just extraordinarily nice and the food is excellent,” she said. “They make soup in the winter months that is just outstanding.”
The Swiss Pantry has a welcoming feel to it and the swirling smell of fried pies, cinnamon rolls, meats and cheeses provides a comfort.
When asked what it’s like to work there every day, Linea Powell, the store’s marketing specialist, described a team atmosphere.
“Our boss (Charlotte) is amazing and willing to lay her life down for us,” Powell said. “We really do want to help each other. I’m always amazed at just the kindness and generosity that there is, and the loyalty that they have to this store.”
Charlotte said the store is a ministry for the seven or so employees, as well as the community, and they want to be “God-honoring” in how they treat everyone.
“I don’t ever want to come across that this is something we have accomplished on our own, because we haven’t, it has definitely been God being with us every step of the way and directing us,” she noted. “…Neither my husband nor I have a business education or experience in running a business, so God has been really gracious and good. We’re never going to be millionaires sitting here but we are happy where we’re at and with the ministry that God’s given us.”
Swiss Pantry is at 10026 David Crockett Parkway. For more information call (931) 962-0567.