Country market reopens with fresh take on local food

Emma Terhar and Tyler Forve kept guests lining up for more during the soft opening of Cornwall Country Market last week.

Photo by Kathryn Boughton

Country market reopens with fresh take on local food

CORNWALL — When Henry Breen moved his little market up from the riverside to the newly established intersection of routes 4 and 7 during the Great Depression, it was touted as “the most up-to-date store between New Milford and Canaan.”

The market has seen various owners and various levels of care in the nine decades since then, but today, the description would be as valid as it was in 1935. The interior gleams with glass cases filled with made-from-scratch delicacies; an enclosed area for preparing gourmet chocolates, a sparkling kitchen; and a crisply clean, white-walled retail area. The shelves, which are still being filled, offer superior food products, while an alcove has been sequestered for a wide range of products produced by Cornwall crafters and farmers.

The market launched with a soft opening last week, but eager area denizens gave the newly installed staff nary a moment to draw a breath. The market swarmed with customers eager to buy lunch to-go or to consume a meal at the limited number of tables.

“Everyone is running at redline,” said co-proprietor Will Schenk, who has overseen the conversion of the market from a quaint country store to a sleek, 21st-century mercantile.

“Everyone locally talks about Baird’s from the generation previously,” said Schenk. “We spent so long working on building a new concept, a very different philosophy on food than before. I’m excited to finally open to validate these ideas. It’s a vision.”

The new iteration of the market is a combination of a “place for people to go grab a cup of coffee and sandwich, groceries, or our chocolates,” Schenk said.

Emphasis on freshness is being carried throughout the enterprise. “We’re using the market as a pantry for the kitchen,” said Schenk. “We want to bring in a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables — broccolini has been very popular this week — that people can purchase. We want to make the market a place where people can do their shopping for real, not just a last-minute thing they need on a Friday night.”

But because the emphasis will be on freshness, vegetables and fruit that are pushing their prime will be culled and whisked off the kitchen, where co-proprietor and chef Tyler Forve and sous chef Emma Terhaar will work their magic in transforming them into mouthwatering made-from-scratch dishes and sandwiches sure to tempt all three classifications of customers Schenk envisions.

“I see three different groups,” he said. “The locals who want a community spot, a place to hang out. Then there the tradespeople — they need to get in and get out. They want a sandwich and drinks, and they leave their trucks idling out front. And then there are the weekenders and tourists, people going along Route 7. They don’t know where they are, they just know they are hungry. These groups want very different things.

“I don’t think a country market is a viable business model now,” he said. “It may be better to do fewer things and to do them really well. In the world of Amazon, it doesn’t make sense to compete with that, so we will focus on delicious things. We’re making our own breads and sausages and providing the freshest vegetables we can.”

Schenk, who formerly owned a software business in New York City, moved his family to Cornwall in 2020 when COVID-19 tightened its grip on the country. “We found a house in February 2020 and came up for a long weekend — and we’re still here today.”

The family, which already has four children enrolled in Cornwall Consolidated School, is awaiting the imminent arrival of baby number five.

By 2022, the family was so thoroughly ensconced in the area, Schenk sold his business and began looking at the next chapter. He and Forve, his longtime friend, had already looked south at Colombian chocolate growers. “We were trying to find a way to buy chocolate and vanilla directly from the farmers — doing the proper thing down there — and shipping it up here,” he said.

“Since we get our chocolate directly from the grower, it’s remarkable,” he added, saying that the business model embraces sustainable agriculture. “Demand for chocolate is so high the question was ‘how do we find a viable system for the farmer so it doesn’t become a monoculture?’”

Contacts were made, a factory established, and Forve spent four years working in Colombia where he absorbed the culture and creation of quality chocolate. Forve, who trained under several Michelin-level chefs in the San Francisco Bay area, added that because they deal directly with the producers, the chocolate beans can be roasted to their specifications and even soaked in different flavors to give distinctive tastes. A special room was created in the market to make bonbons, paves, chocolate bark and other treats.

Schenk hopes chocolate will set his business apart and make it a destination for shoppers. He noted that winter is the peak sales period for chocolates, with holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

“From our point of view, normally the winter is slow for tourism, but that is also the time when chocolate is at its peak. We hope to do a lot of e-commerce,” he said.

The business also purchases wild vanilla from Colombian farmers and uses it in the candies and such products as the crème fraiche atop pastries and the in-house ice creams.

“We were going to open a cafe in Cornwall Bridge, but for septic reasons, that didn’t happen,” Schenk explained. At the same time, the Cornwall Country Market, just across the road, went on the market, “so we shifted to that.” Schenk still owns the property across the street and “has a lot of ideas” for its use, predicting it will be “a larger part of the chocolate project.”

At present, there are 12 employees working in the market, some at their first jobs.

The market is open Monday-Saturday, 8-3 p.m.

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