The greater Kalamazoo area has a number of small grocery stores, each with a unique offering of foods. This series takes a look at those stores and the unique foods savvy shoppers can find at them.
Nestled into a crook of East D Avenue overlooking Gull Lake, specialty artisan grocer Beer and Skittles has settled into the new location it moved to in January 2015.
“It’s been good — and hectic,” says owner Christine Horton of the new store at 12448 East D Ave., Richland, which is the former site of the Bayview Market. “We have been lucky to have a lot of our regular customers who make the trip out, and we’ve also been kind of surprised to find out a lot of our customers are from this area to begin with. And we’ve gained a new customer base here at Gull Lake too.”
The new location hasn’t changed the store’s business model, however. Horton and her husband, David Mitchell, maintain their enthusiasm and dedication to stocking Michigan-made foods, beer and handmade goods.
“We didn’t necessarily mean to focus on Michigan products, but I love artisan products and I like to go out and find that one special thing, like that one person making really good caramels,” Horton says. “My approach has been, instead of having 20 kinds of chips, let’s find three really good ones and sell those. By proximity, and what I was looking for, I found a lot of Michigan products.”
For those trying out Beer and Skittles for the first time, or for regulars thinking of new things to try, here are five suggestions from Horton and local shoppers who’ve reviewed Beer and Skittles online:
Olive Oil and Vinegar
One of the enduring favorites at Beer and Skittles is The Olive Mill olive oil and balsamic vinegar bar, complete with tasting cups. Customers choose from balsamic vinegar flavors like serrano chili honey, mango, oregano and black cherry, as well as olive oil flavors including blood orange, white truffle, butter and basil. Patrons can fill up their own bottles from vats at the bar or choose pre-wrapped bottles.
Reviewers boast about the dark chocolate balsamic vinegar, the 20-year-old aged balsamic vinegar, the walnut olive oil and the white truffle olive oil. Products from The Olive Mill, based in Geneva, Ill., are more expensive than other vinegars and oils but worth it, reviewers say.
“I think it’s one of those things that, once you start using them, you can’t go back,” Horton says. “It’s a simple way to add flavor to a dish with very little effort, and they’re high-quality and healthy. It’s a way to eat healthier and not miss out on flavor.”
Another reviewer favorite is the store’s selection of Everything Nice salt, spice and herb products. The go-to suggestions include the Hawaiian Black Lava Salt and the Smoked Sea Salt. Horton says this line is particularly dear to her.
“That’s actually our own brand,” she says. “I knew I wanted to bring in a line of herbs and spices, and it’s really important to me for things to be high-quality, high-value but also beautifully packaged. I couldn’t find one anywhere, and then all of a sudden I thought, ‘You know, you can do your own.’”
Horton says the herbs, spices and peppers are organic. Two popular herb mixes are the Mediterranean herb blend, which is great in soup and as an herb blend for dipping, and the grilling herb blend, which has been very popular since Beer and Skittles’ move to Richland, “probably for obvious reasons” (lakeside living and fishing = lots of grilling),” Horton says.
Cherri’s Chocol’art Habanero Salted Caramels
These little caramels, handmade in Delton, combine sweet, salty and spicy tastes and come highly recommended by online reviewers. “These are the best salted caramels on the planet,” one reviewer says.
The Beer and Skittles website says that these caramels are “mildly spiced, a perfect blend of sweet, salt and heat.”
Lupita’s Salsa and Chips
Horton says Lupita’s Salsa and Chips, made by Jona and Julian Orta in Kalamazoo, are beloved by many customers, who recognize them from the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, where the Ortas sell them in person. Lupita’s chips are thinner than most, Horton says, and have been a cornerstone product since the launch of Beer and Skittles.
Meyers Bakery Spelt Pasta
This pasta, made by Meyers Bakery in Lake Odessa, comes in different flavors including an Italian herb blend and a tomato basil flavor. The pasta is made from spelt, an ancient form of wheat, and cooks up perfectly, Horton says.
“I love that pasta because I found it at a CSA (a community-supported agriculture endeavor) I was connected to through the Bank Street (Kalamazoo) farmers’ market,” Horton says. “It’s not gluten-free, and you can’t eat it if you’re gluten intolerant or if you have Celiac disease, but what’s cool is that it’s low in gluten, so it’s easily digestible and doesn’t make you as feel as full. I also like that it’s so long and it’s just kind of
fun to eat.”
Beer and Skittles is open 8 a.m.–7 p.m. every day. For more information call 290-1441.