All we ever see on the news these days is economic doom and gloom, with a forecast for more of the same. But even during a recession, the American dream is alive and well for anyone with a strong work ethic and the resilience to roll with the punches. At least it was for the successful owner of Shisler’s Cheese House, Rita Shisler.
Rita emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1956 with nothing but the clothes on her back. She was not even able to speak the language. She inherited her work ethic from her father, who held three jobs while he supported his wife and four children. He passed his dream of business ownership on to Rita, who was eldest of the four. But the work ethic alone was not enough to survive as a business owner. She would have to learn to keep the faith through the many trials and tribulations that every business owner must face.
During the recession of the 1980s, Rita was at the helm of a family business on the verge of bankruptcy. Shisler’s Cheese House was still following its original business model, which resembled a neighborhood deli. But now the meats and cheeses could be found for a lower price at any of the local grocery stores. The business was caught in a downward spiral. She had one child in college and another in Junior High at the time, and she was left to face it all on her own. She made the agonizing decision to sell the business…but fate had other plans.
Thanks to the slow economy and double-digit interest rates, the business just would not sell. Every time she got a buyer lined up, the deal fell through. So she decided to give it one more shot at making the business work. She began making sandwiches for a gas station on the interstate a few miles away. The sandwiches were a hit and soon the one account grew to ten different accounts. This alleviated some of the financial pressure, but the work became exhausting. Twenty-hour workdays were not uncommon. She woke up at 2AM and began making sandwiches. Her youngest son got up to help her deliver them a few hours later. Then she dropped him off at school and got back just in time to open the store at 9AM. She then stayed open until 8PM. This was a typical day for many years.
Through all of this, her faithful customers continued to shop there and would not give up on her. The revenue from the sandwich accounts enabled her to pay down some debt and begin introducing new products into the store. She began to re-define the business to be a reflection of local culture, rather than just the virtually obsolete neighborhood deli. She only dealt in the best locally made cheeses and meats, and began introducing some imported cheeses and gourmet foods to her product offering. She also dedicated a portion of her retail space to gourmet chocolates, and she was able to gain distribution rights to the world famous but locally owned Heggy’s Chocolates. She also became focused on providing the best customer service. The loyal customers were the life blood of her business, and the reason it survived the difficult times. This was the turning point for Shisler’s Cheese House. From there, it evolved into the thriving business it is today.
Here is the abbreviated list of her accomplishments:
- Gross sales of $30,000 a year in 1958 to over a half-million in 2009.
- From grandpa Shisler alone behind the counter in 1958, to 6 full- time and 4 part- time employees.
- From weekly cheese sales of 300 pounds, to over a ton per week, tripling that during the month of December.
- From a small grocery line and 6 types of cheese, to 80 domestic and imported cheeses, 30 local smoked meats, and over 300 gourmet foods and chocolates.
- Adding a “Skinny Alternatives” line to satisfy the more health conscious customer base and a product line for the ever growing diabetic patients with sugar free items.
- Designating Shisler’s Cheese House as a wealth of information for tourists and a favorite Tour Bus Stop (3 to 4 buses a week from spring to fall).
- Her eldest son D.J. Shisler opened a second Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley, OH with a wider selection of imported cheeses and a selection of fine wine to go with them.
- She brought her delicious product line to the rest of the world by shipping to all fifty states and over thirty countries. Shisler’s Cheese House began offering the online shopping experience at www.cheesehouse.com last year.
- Plans to expand are currently under way. She plans to triple her retail space so she can offer more of the wonderful gourmet products Shisler’s Cheese House has become famous for. The expansion will also include a diner where the customers can sample recipes that include her delicious products.
There are no free rides, and no one has ever become successful simply because they thought they were entitled. But for those willing to persevere, the American Dream is Alive and well, even for a disadvantaged immigrant woman struggling to survive in what is perceived to be a man’s world. Rita Shisler is living proof of that.
Solving the American Obesity Epidemic Part II: The Secret to Lasting Weight Loss (Hint: It’s not Starving Yourself)
In order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, we need to commit to permanently changing some of our deeply held beliefs, and thus our habits. But the changes need not be drastic. Anyone who has ever traveled to Continental Europe has seen that the obesity epidemic there is not nearly as bad as it is here in The U.S. Yet their lifestyles are not that different from ours. They enjoy fine foods including desserts, they consume even more beer and wine than we do, and they do not spend the majority of their day on a treadmill or lifting weights. Two major factors contribute to their ability to maintain healthy body weights:
- Portion Control
- A less sedentary lifestyle
The secret to permanent weight loss is really not a secret at all. Just as the experts have always said, the trick is to take in fewer calories than your body burns on a daily basis. Of course that is easier said than done, but it may not be as difficult as you think. The key is to rid yourself of the age-old assumptions that our culture has instilled in us. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that it needs nourishment. Trying to ignore it may work temporarily, but only when conditions are ideal as mentioned in the first article in this series. The hunger will get progressively worse and lead to irrational eating, ultimately resulting in more weight gain. Your body also has mechanisms in place that will begin to protect your fat stores if it believes you are being starved. Limiting yourself to the traditional three meals per day can also lead to feeling hungry between meals. Then you will overeat when the time for a meal finally arrives. You need to have healthy snacks available throughout the day to keep your hunger in check. Then you will eat a controlled and reasonable portion at mealtime. You also need to control the portion sizes you eat during meals. Marketing giants like fast food restaurants have capitalized on formulating their meals to increase our appetites to make sure we order more and return more frequently. Restaurants in turn have increased their portion sizes to keep up with our perception of what constitutes proper meal sizes. But if you go to a European style or fine dining restaurant, you will notice the average portion size is much smaller. That is because we have developed the incorrect assumption that it takes a larger portion size to satisfy us. Portion sizes of certain courses (such as vegetables) can be larger, but our meals are typically focus on the wrong course.
The other factor that leads to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is a less sedentary lifestyle. Notice I did not say exercise. Most of us do not have the time or motivation to spend hours on end at the gym. Exercise has also been over-emphasized as a means to lose weight in the past, leading to disappointment and eventual failure. Just like changes to your diet, you must incorporate something you can live with and not overly disrupt your current routine. The Europeans are famous for not using their cars as much as we do and walking to more places. That is not often practical in The U.S., but you can incorporate an activity you enjoy into your routine like taking a walk after dinner or playing basketball with your kids. The trick is to make sure it is something you can live with on a daily basis.
Obviously, you cannot make an effective and lasting lifestyle change by just adjusting a few things here and there. You need a plan. Many are available, and books such as The Zone and The Abs Diet come highly recommended. But what has been most effective for me personally has been the Weight Watchers plan.
I am not employed by, nor am I paid to endorse Weight Watchers in any way. But I have now lost over 47 pounds on their plan in a few months and will reach my goal weight in less than a month. I can see myself maintaining the healthier eating habits I have learned from them for life, without ever feeling deprived. This may not sound like a very impressive accomplishment, but one factor made weight loss an ongoing and uphill battle for me. I am the owner of a gourmet food store that specializes in Cheese and Chocolate. I spend every day seeing and smelling a selection of culinary delights. It took us years to refine our selection to only the very best products we can offer. That presented quite a challenge, but it also helped me to discover a plan that even a passionate lover of fine gourmet foods could adhere to. I did become more sensitive to the needs of a healthy lifestyle and incorporated a “Skinny Alternatives” section to my store, stocked with lower calorie foods that were delicious alternatives to the fruits and vegetables I usually had for snacks. But given the proper portion size, nothing was off limits.
I am confident that with commitment and motivation, anyone can achieve and maintain a healthy weight the same way I did. I am not saying there will not be challenges. But I believe that if I was able to do it, anyone can.
We in the United States have set numerous precedents in our relatively short history, many of which the rest of the civilized world saw fit to follow. But there is one that we as Americans are not particularly proud of. We now hold the title of the world’s most obese nation. One in every three Americans is obese. We are not proud of that, and would not consider it a precedent the rest of the world should follow, but statistics show the rest of the world IS following.
Obesity is not just an undesirable way to look in most cultures. There are many health risks involved with being overweight including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and of course diabetes. It is one more reason for health insurance premiums to increase.
So why do we keep packing on the pounds? Most of the experts say it is a combination of our crazy-busy, yet mostly sedentary lifestyle. Stay at home Moms that prepare meals for their families are becoming more and more rare. We all have to not just work these days, but work long hours and commit to a myriad of extra-curricular activities. We have become dependent on fast or over-processed foods that can be prepared quickly with little effort because we do not have time to prepare a well-balanced meal. Then we spend every spare minute trying to clear our minds with sedentary activities. Instead of taking a walk after dinner like our grandparents did, we plant ourselves in front of the TV, computer, or video games.
The obesity rate in the U.S. has doubled in the last ten years, and there is no evidence that we will correct our course any time soon. It is difficult to change the daily habits we develop. There is no shortage of diets, miracle pills, and even surgeries that promise rapid weight loss. But these are temporary (and sometimes risky) solutions to problems that were created by the habits of a lifetime. There is one common thread amongst obese people. They are procrastinators. They believe that some day soon there will be some miracle cure that will provide them with the perfect body overnight, with little or no effort on their part. Maybe they are just planning to start their diet next week. Maybe they tried diet and exercise for a period of time and were disappointed with the results. Maybe they are waiting until they get the big promotion at work and can afford the gastric bypass or one of the other bariatric surgeries that are becoming increasingly popular. The excuses are many, and marketers are capitalizing on that hope for a “miracle cure” for obesity.
Weight loss is now a billion dollar empire, but why is it that as the number of miracle weight loss products continues to grow, so do our waistlines? Professionally monitored diet plans like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem promise great results if you can afford them, but how long do you plan to siphon a portion of your hard earned money into an advisor and their over-priced specialized foods? Do you think you can just stay on the program until you reach your goal weight and then maintain it on your own? Will you keep the weight off, or just return to your old habits as soon as there is no longer an advisor to hold you accountable? You would think Kirstie Alley would have been able to afford to stay on the Jenny Craig program indefinitely. What happened to her?
Pills, cookies, and smoothies also promise great results with little effort. But again, you must ask yourself how long you want to be dependent on those crutches to maintain a healthy weight, and what are the side effects?
You may even be willing to go under the knife in the name of weight loss. But elective surgeries are expensive and can be risky. Now that statistics are available on the long-term effects of the original gastric bypass performed in the 1970s, we know that the procedure was not just risky, but downright dangerous! What will the statistics show about the current bariatric procedures twenty years from now?
That leaves us with the ever-popular and ever-changing miracle diets. Low-carb diets like The Atkins Diet became so popular a few years ago that they almost put Krispy-Kreme donuts out of business in the middle of an economic boom! But while The Atkins Diet delivered rapid results, over time we found out the results were undone even more rapidly. The food selections were fairly limited, and were too far removed from our current eating habits, making us unable to enjoy meals with friends or at restaurants. Anything resembling a dessert was permanently off-limits. One slip could undo the effort and sacrifice of an entire week. So the market became flooded with imitators that promised a better selection of foods that were more conducive to our current lifestyles. But the very word “diet” implies a temporary sacrifice in our modern vocabulary. How can you achieve permanent results with a temporary sacrifice? Unless every condition in our lives is ideal, even the temporary sacrifice becomes too difficult to make. As soon as we become sick or stressed or have to deal with any adversity, we seek comfort in the old familiar foods we used to enjoy. So how will we maintain a healthy weight if we can not even maintain a temporary sacrifice long enough to get to our goal weight?
Making a temporary sacrifice will not permanently solve a problem. As soon as you fall back into your old habits, the weight will creep back up. We need to permanently change our habits.
Part II of this article outlines why the obesity epidemic is not prevalent in Europe, and how we can emulate their lifestyle differences for permanent results.
We all know what Swiss cheese is. An image probably comes to mind of the neatly pre-sliced cheese we buy in small packs from the grocery store characterized by its myriad of holes. It has a mild taste and the slices are good for making sandwiches. But do we know where it came from? Most non-cheese connoisseurs do not.
The concoction riddled with holes that we know as Swiss cheese was inspired by specific types of cheese that originated in…you guessed it…Switzerland. However, the cheese you buy in the grocery store is very different from the real, premium Swiss cheese, which is still available today, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg unless you are a purist and insist that the only real Swiss cheese is imported from Switzerland.
The “Swiss” cheese that was the original inspiration for what we now call Swiss cheese is called Emmental or Emmentaler. Emmentaler is so named because the particular process by which the cheese is made originated in the Emme Valley, in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland. The process involves certain natural bacteria consuming the lactic acid in the cheese and releasing carbon dioxide gas, which slowly forms the bubbles that create the perfectly round holes that characterize Swiss cheese. Cheese experts often refer to these holes as “eyes.”
This process that was born in the Emme Valley has inspired a large number of the cheeses we enjoy today. Emmentaler is now produced in other European countries like France, Finland and Germany as well as it’s native Switzerland. Jarlsberg from Norway, and Leerdammer and Maasdam from The Netherlands are all similar variations of the original “Swiss Cheese.” But the problem we have in North America is that importing food can be an expensive process, from transporting it under the proper conditions to the government inspection standards. That all adds to the price of the cheese we enjoy, making it a luxury product. But those on a budget can still enjoy delectable Swiss cheese.
The problem with the mass produced Swiss cheese we find in the grocery store is that the production process has lost its integrity in the name of high volume output. This is often debated, but generally the larger the eyes, the more pronounced the flavor of the cheese. The reason for this is that the conditions that provide the ideal flavor, longer aging at higher temperatures, are also the ideal conditions for the enzymes and bacteria to create larger eyes. This creates two problems with mass producers that are focused on turning a profit. The longer aging process slows production, and the larger eyes make it difficult to neatly slice the cheese on mechanical slicers, because the cheese comes apart. Both of these factors cost time and money, so Swiss cheese manufactured in North America is often less aged and flavorful than imported varieties.
So how can we enjoy good Swiss cheese without spending an arm and a leg? We buy it from a “cheese artist”, rather than a “cheese business.” During the wave of European immigration to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many immigrants from the canton of Bern, Switzerland, where the original Emmentaler was produced, settled in Northeastern Ohio in what is now Holmes County. Holmes County, OH is now also the largest Amish settlement in the world. The Swiss immigrants brought their cheese making traditions with them, and although production has been aided by some automation, the original process is still strictly adhered to. But the process is not the only element necessary to successfully produce incredible Swiss cheese. It is essential that the milk used in making the cheese comes from specific types of cows that graze in specific grasses. All of those elements are present in Holmes County Ohio, and the milk is provided by local Amish farmers who do not give their cows hormones or antibiotics or add preservatives to the milk. The result is a Swiss cheese that tastes as good, if not better than the original Emmentaler that is imported from Switzerland, at approximately 1/3 the price.
Shisler’s Cheese House, a specialty cheese retailer located in Northeastern Ohio, conducted a double-blind taste test pitting imported Swiss Emmentaler against locally produced Pearl Valley Swiss Cheese, a fourth generation owned and operated cheese maker from Holmes County, OH. Of all the customers surveyed, approximately 10% were undecided, 10% said they preferred the imported Emmentaler, 20% said they liked both equally, and 60% preferred the locally made Ohio Swiss cheese.
So if you are a chef who likes to include fine cheeses in your recipes, you entertain frequently, or are simply a cheese enthusiast with a taste for fine Swiss cheese, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy imported cheese or sacrifice quality for affordability. All you have to do stop into one of the local cheese stores i