They call him “Mater Man.” Close friends can hardly pass the produce section in Kroger without thinking of Steve Turner. Steve’s a Roanoke native who is well known in the local real estate community, having worked for Owens & Company, REALTORS, Long & Foster and currently, Lichtenstein Rowan. When he’s not working, Steve can often be found at the Wildwood Smokehouse, in close proximity to a hot chicken wing and a cold beer. He’s always quick with a joke and a smile, and is a friend to everyone around him. Oh and he’s a rabid Hokie football fan!
Why is he called ‘Mater Man? If you visited Steve’s back yard, you’d understand. He has a gorgeous garden, named “Fort ‘Mater” by his longtime friend Pat Clark, due to its fortifications against marauding deer. I asked Pat what she thought of Steve’s foray into the sauce business:
“My friend and former co-worker, always enjoyed his summer hobby of growing great tomatoes! We always looked forward to the season when we would have those delicious bags of tomatoes delivered to our desk, or sometimes, even to people’s homes! He was lovingly named the “mater man!”
In the true spirit of entrepreneurship, Steve has turned his passion into productivity! Growing even bigger and better tomatoes each year, he expanded the patch to a small backyard farm! In order to protect his new crop from critters—and protect critters from him—-he built “ Mater FT. Knox”! Not even a butterfly could enter there!
Now there are sauces, salsa’s, peppers, and more! I expect to see this Peter Piper with his Pickles, Peppers and more be in great demand, and I hope they are enjoyed throughout the Region and beyond!” -Pat Clark
After 20+ years of gardening, he knows what he’s doing. Steve grows a lot of tomatoes. In fact, he grows so many that he has started a company named “Ol’ Phat Tuners Salsa-Sauces-Pickles.”
Recently, I had lunch with Steve to find out more about his new company. The first thing I wanted to know was about the name. Ol’ Phat Tuner? You can’t use that, you’re “Mater Man!” I thought. But Steve explained: “I used to steal cookies from my best friend’s mother’s cookie jar.” One day Steve found a note taped to the jar that read “Old Fat Tuner was here!” What they didn’t know at the time was that Mrs. Ratliff was baking chocolate chip cookies just so the boys could steal them. She left the note as a joke, and it was a fond memory. In keeping with the times, Steve changed “fat” to “phat” and a company was born.
I asked Steve what gave him the idea to start a company of his own. Basically, he said, he’d turned a hobby into a vocation. Like many people, he had a dream to “do what he loves to do.” Steve grows virtually all the ingredients that go into his products: tomatoes, cucumbers, thyme, oregano, dill, basil, tomatillos, banana peppers, jalapenos, cayenne, red cherry, pepperoncini…you name it! The recipes are all his own, and he has spent years perfecting them.
Of course I wondered how sales have been, but when I asked, the answer stunned me. “I don’t make any sales” Steve said. It seems that the regulations governing food sales are more complicated and expensive than Steve can comply with. He doesn’t have a professional kitchen or the ability to furnish nutritional labels. What he does have is a dream-and delicious salsa, pickles, and sauces, made from locally-grown ingredients that are often picked the same day the product is made. Farm to table at its best!
If you’d like to try some, Ol’ Phat Tuner’s Facebook Page will put you in touch with Steve. (Don’t forget to “Like” it while you’re there.) Some of the products offered are dill pickles, hot peppered dills, bread & butter pickles, chow-chow, salsa and salsa verde, and “Loganator-285 Hot Sauce” (named for Steve’s son, Logan, who is a Championship High School wrestler in the 285lb. class.) Maybe you can trade Steve for something, (we traded homemade barbecue for salsa) or just ask and ye might receive. One taste of his delicious, fresh products and you’ll be glad you hooked up with a “Tuner!”
Housing markets continue to improve nationwide and here in Roanoke, VA. In August 2011 there were 4,290 homes for sale in the Valley. This August, there were 3737, a 13.1% drop. Less inventory means higher prices, as long as demand remains steady or increases. In fact, Demand rose 8.4% when comparing August 2011 to August 2012. This all points to the return of appreciation. Buyers-the time to make a move is NOW! Five years from now, people will be saying “I wish I bought back in 2012.”
The Roanoke Valley Association of REALTORS has launched a website to make it easier for buyers to find Open Houses in the Roanoke Valley. Just visit RoanokeValleyOpenHouse.com (click the icon below) and you’ll find open houses listed for Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, Franklin County, Botetourt County, Bedford County, Bedford City and Craig County. The site includes home photos, directions to the Open House, and some details about the property. This makes it a lot easier than finding open houses randomly-get them all in one site!
The wind started to howl outside my window in Salem, Virginia around 9:20 PM on Friday, June 29th, 2012. The sound was haunting; our Bradford Pear out front was making noises that trees are not supposed to make. It sounded like the deck of an old wooden ship, creaking as it was battered by the waves. Only these were waves of wind, not water. In fact, not a drop of rain came down at our house. It was a very odd storm.
It’s really hard to see much in the video, but turn your sound up. I was hanging on to the front door frame of my house, holding my iPhone out on the porch.
Shortly thereafter, the house went dark and silent. We thought the power would be off for an hour or two, maybe even until morning. After all, it had been 104°F in the Roanoke Valley that afternoon-hot enough to generate quite a storm.
On the drive home from work I jokingly snapped a picture of my car thermometer and texted it to my son, who had gone to Michigan to attend Electric Forest.
No one guessed that we’d be without power through days of 100°+ heat, finally getting it back in the early morning hours of July 4th. To compound the situation, my 85 year old mother had just been released from the hospital with a heart problem…into a home with no power in 100° heat. Luckily, we are longtime hunters and fisherman in this family, and we had a small generator from hunting camp. It ran our refrigerator and a fan, which was aimed right at Granny.
Independence Day took on a whole new meaning to us-after this experience we decided we needed some independence from relying completely on the power company. We’ve started investigating alternative sources of power because we never want to go through this again. The family was getting cranky. We were cooped up in extreme heat and no one could sleep in those conditions. Each day got our tempers grew shorter.
Workers came from all over the eastern US to help repair the damage. The local and not-so-local workers are much appreciated. They worked 16 hour shifts in extreme heat and they are still working as I write this.
Many families are still in homes with no electricity as of July 5th. There are thousands more than the chart shows in surrounding Counties.
The Roanoke Times’ Kevin Myatt confirmed that wind gusts were clocked at 81MPH at the Roanoke Regional Airport. Trees were uprooted, homes were smashed, fires started and so far, 11 Virginians have died storm related deaths. Six more have died from the heat.
This evening, (7/5/12) another thunderstorm came through and knocked the power back out in Vinton, Rocky Mount, and downtown Roanoke. The Governor has declared a state of emergency.
Of course, there are many worse problems in the world than sitting in a house with no power. However, this was one problem my family could have been better prepared for, and we learned a lesson. What will you do differently to prepare for another storm?
Here is what we will stock up on:
- Lanterns with batteries
- A good quality cooler
- Extra batteries-especially “D” size
- Containers of water
- Canned food
- Non-electric can opener
- First-aid kit
- A generator
- Battery powered fans
- Kerosene or propane heaters
- Note: It’s important to know how to manually operate an electric garage door
- Note: Meteorologist Jamey Singleton does a truly excellent job at giving Roanoke Valley residents advance notice when severe storms are approaching.
In a prior post, I reported the results of a comparison grocery shopping trip my husband and I took in Salem and Roanoke, Virginia. We visited Food Lion and Kroger, but found only a minor difference in prices; in fact for 12 items, it was about 44 cents, with Food Lion being slightly cheaper. Readers asked “what about Wal-Mart?” Today we checked prices on the same 12 items at the Salem Wal-Mart store. The results are in the chart below. In my family, the typical grocery cart has 40 to 50 items. The best I can figure, shopping at Wal-Mart would save us $13-$14 per grocery trip, or $52-$56 a month. At over $600 in savings per year, it’s worth putting up with some crowds and parking issues. We’ll just plan ahead and time our trips better. What about you?
On Thurday, June 7th, Chick-fil-A will hold it’s Grand Opening in Salem. The restaurant is located at 1355 W Main St. right near K-Mart. Just look for the cow in front of the building! Two days this week, they held employee training sessions, where free breakfasts and drinks were given out from 7AM-9AM. Cars were wrapped around the building when I drove by Tuesday morning. More information is available on the SoSalem website.
On Wednesday June 6th, a “camp out” will begin in preparation for the opening-complete with prizes and maybe, a special guest. Could it be the cow? *Update* It’s not the cow visiting, it is Chick-fil-A’s President, Mr. Dan Cathy. Thanks to Amanda Codispoti of the Roanoke Times for setting things straight, and apologies to Mr. Cathy for thinking it was the cow!
Have you ever wondered if it really matters where you do your food shopping in the Roanoke Valley? Does the Kroger gas discount make a real difference? My husband and I had discussed doing a comparison shopping trip for years, and we decided to “make it happen” this afternoon. The shopping list was chosen at random, from items we already had in the house. The plan was to buy 12 items, but it was cut to 11 after making the mistake of buying a half-gallon of milk in Food Lion and a gallon in Kroger-oops! On the rest of the items, we checked the size to make sure we were comparing “apples to apples.”
Before we get started, I’d like to make it clear that my family has no dog in this fight; neither my husband nor I work for either company and are in no way affiliated with them. We like both stores and are frequent customers in Kroger and Food Lion.
The other important thing to know is that we planned this based on reality for our own family. Wal-Mart may have better prices than these; but we always seem to make excuses when it’s time to shop there. The crowds are too big, the parking is a hassle, and the stores are just too large for us. At times we intend to go there…but somehow we always wind up in one of the other 2 stores. Also, I learned that you get discounts if you have a Kroger credit card, but we don’t use any credit cards, so we ruled that out. The Food Lion MVP and Kroger Discount cards were also disregarded, because they make it too hard to compare items. We used actual shelf prices on what we bought.
My husband Eddie and I both loved Food Lion’s new “no cluttered aisles” look; it was much more convenient than navigating around cardboard displays. The store (on Grandin Road/Rt. 419) was spotless and the employees were super friendly and very helpful. The lady who checked us out joked with Eddie and me about doing price comparisons; she was a great sport.
Lindsey Nair writes a great blog called “PlateUp” in the Roanoke Times and back in April I noticed a number of enthusiastic comments there about recent changes at Food Lion. They’re on the right track.
Although we normally shop at Kroger in Spartan Square-Salem, today we were closer to the Ridgewood Farms Kroger, so that is where we went. The layout of the various Kroger stores seems very similar to me, and it’s nice to be able to pop in to whichever Kroger is closest and find what I need quickly.
Kroger employees have always been helpful; the Manager always speaks to me in Spartan Square and asks if there’s anything I need. They’ve also offered -happily- to order anything I can’t find in stock. There is never an attitude (like I am causing them extra work) and it makes me feel welcome and happy to shop there.
They even have a sense of humor. One day while trying to choose a lobster, a retired lobsterman came up behind me in Spartan Square Kroger and asked if I’d like to see a lobster do a handstand. Of course I would! The seafood department employees gave us a place to try it and sure enough-it worked. The lobsterman (wish I had gotten his name) then helped me choose the freshest lobster and all in all we had a big laugh and a great time.
So, how were the prices? Take a look at the chart and you’ll see the difference is not very much. The cheaper prices are in bold text. Food Lion was a little cheaper based on our sample purchases. We tried to factor in the Kroger gas discount in the best way we knew how. The gas discount was based on *this purchase only,* not a month’s worth of shopping.
Consumer Reports, we’re not! See Part 2 of this post, which includes Wal-Mart.
It never ceases to amaze me-the beauty that is all around if we just stop and look for it. Last week I saw an interesting article about world-class violinist Joshua Bell, who played (anonymously) for 45 minutes in a Washington, DC Metro station, and hardly a person stopped to listen. Only days before, Bell had sold out a concert hall at $100 a seat. If we’ll walk past one of the world’s finest violinists, I have to wonder, what else are we missing that is right under our noses?
Reading the article reminded me to stop and look for the beauty around me, whether it is music, the Blue Ridge Mountains, or baby Canada Geese along the Roanoke River. Living in Roanoke, we are blessed with an abundance of outdoor opportunities, and natural beauty is all everywhere. Ferris Bueller said it best: ”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. “