By Tari Robertson
As the urban sprawls of Iowa continue to spill rapidly across the picturesque rural landscape of the State, it’s nice to know that the charm and character of small town living continues to flourish yet, in many areas. While economic development is necessary for the survival of smaller communities, there are those towns which nicely manage to enjoy the best of both worlds. Winthrop, IA. is such a place. However, continued enjoyment of such, would not be possible, if it were not for those far-sighted individuals who vigilantly keep their eyes on community needs, are willing to take the risk and provide for those needs.
Gary and Deanna McElroy have made it their calling to pay attention to community needs and wishes. They are the owners of McElroy’s Food Market in Winthrop. McElroy’s has successfully been be a trusted icon in Buchanan Co. for over fifty years. Recent additions include: a full-service catering operation and its needed equipment, and a large state-of-the -art salad kitchen, beer cave and liquor department at their second grocery store location, in Strawberry Point.
McElroy’s Food Market continues to be a work-in-progress. The business was started in the mid-1950’s, by Gary’s parents, John and Virginia McElroy, in Independence, IA. “Their first store was near the old Robin’s Nest Motel, on Old Highway 150, and then, a few years later they bought a second store located in Hazleton. As time passed they decided to relocate their Highway 150 store to Chatham St. in Independence.” Gary explains.
“Dad had an extraordinary meat business back then. It was not uncommon for him to do a half-dozen beef quarters each week….and that’s a lot of meat!” Eventually, the Hazleton store was sold. Then, in the late sixties, John and Virginia were approached by several prominent citizens from Winthrop to relocate yet again, and start a grocery store in their town.
Mc Elroy shared an amusing story: “ My Mom was urging him to do it. (Move to Winthrop and start a store there.) Dad wanted to operate both…. There was a lot of competition by that time and there were several grocery stores in Independence already. My Mom really wanted him to sell. Finally, he gave in, but it was under protest… as he carved in the wood at the old store, ‘John McElroy left in ‘68.…not by own choice,’… and I always thought that was kind of a funny story.”
McElroy’s Food Market opened up for business at its present location, in the last quarter of 1969, and has grown and gone through a number of improvements since then. Gary took over the family business in 1984 and has carried on the family vision. .
When meeting Gary McElroy, one is struck by his passion– for life, his beloved community and their successful business. Always looking ahead, he keeps and eye on trends, future community-wants, and business needs. His enthusiasm is contagious and his concentration at the moment, lies in the successful expansion of McElroy’s Catering Service.
“In 1988, we bought a smoker. With the help of Roy Payne (Quasqueton) we began smoking a lot of meat. During these last 16 years we’ve sold an astronomical amount of sausage and barbequed meat. Mary Schweitzer has taken over a lot of that responsibility now. She knows what’ she’s doing,,” says McElroy. “Several years ago we were actually preparing meat and food for other area caterers….but since then, many of those same caterers went out of business…. So, there was a definite need.”
McElroy explained further, “ It’s harder nowadays, for people to put together big events and celebrations within the family unit… with both spouses working, folks simply don’thave time to do that anymore.”
The catering side of the business has now grown to include a huge variety of catering equipment including: Chafing equipment and a carving station, which adds a special touchto any occasion, as well as two barbeque trailers, and three refrigeration trailers.
While McElroy’s potato salad remains an almost legendary, area -favorite, the demand for it became so great, that Gary had to find larger facilities for a salad kitchen, which eventually lead to the purchase of their Strawberry Point location, in May of 1998. “The salad kitchen, located in the basement of the Strawberry Point store, has a huge capacity…..last year we made over 34,000 pounds of potato salad alone! I don’t think people in this area realize just how easily we can handle large-scale events now” Gary exclaims.
McElroy tells of a wild day for business that they had few years ago, “During The Winthrop Days Celebration we catered an event for 600 people at a Manchester facility, had a wedding for 350 in Jesup and then of course Winthrop Days was also going on…..and we did it!”
McElroys provides full catering services according to individual customer budgets and needs. Set-up, delivery and clean-up is also provided. Whether an event is large or small scale, McElroy’s will accommodate those catering needs. A wide choice of delicious menu items is available at good prices.
“We’ve been all over this part of Iowa, from up in Waverly to West Union, over in Manchester and we’ve even done events in the Cedar Rapids/ Marion area.” says Gary.
A recent trend the McElroys have been noticing is, catering for funeral dinners and church-sponsored events. “We prepared over 3200 pounds of cooked turkey last fall for events such as these… We have the equipment to do that. Our refrigerator trucks can be rented out for community celebrations as well, and can hold up to 70 kegs of beer. We can barbeque and grill on site with our barbeque trailers. We’re now set-up to handle any of your catering needs…. We’re also very fortunate in this area, where we have a lot of banquet facilities available which are ( conducive) to this type of catering….like the Miller-Donnelly Building, for example.”
McElroy’s Food Market in Winthrop, and Strawberry Foods in Strawberry Point, offers many other community services: Send or receive FAX, gift certificates, phone cards, postage stamps, lottery tickets, movie rental, LP refill, photo copies, film processing, UPS services, and Helium balloons and bouquets.
The McElroys would like to thank their dedicated employees, for their continued success. “Some of our employees have been with us a lot of years, like Marge Seufferlein, who’s been with us for over 30 (years).” says Gary. “They’re dedicated, knowledgeable, and work hard for us… and we couldn’t do it without them. I’d also like to recognize our store manager in Strawberry Point, Lisa Meyer and our Deli and Catering manager, Dawn Connolly.”
Over 50 years have passed since McElroys began from rather humble beginnings and the business continues to grow. It doesn’t appear that things will be slowing down anytime soon either. Gary and Deanna McElroy have four children: David, Kelsey, Daniel, and Kathryn.
For additional information on any of McElroy’s many services, or for price quotes and consultations on their catering services call: 319-935-3571 or Fax 319-935-3295. A website is also available: www.mcelroyscatering.com