In a time of uncertainty, know that there will always be life, liberty, beaches and a thick slice of pie waiting for you at Cherry Republic.
It’s pretty much a given that a store selling all things cherry would make a great cherry pie. But what you might not expect is for pie to be the key part of the company mission statement, right alongside life, liberty and beaches.
But Cherry Republic is not your ordinary store (or nation). The chain of six specialty shops with an active online business and anchor campus in Glen Arbor attributes a good part of its success to staying true to the words that founder Bob Sutherland put, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, on a T-shirt that he started peddling from the trunk of his car in 1989. The tee read: “life, liberty, beaches and pie.”
When Bob later added a cookie—generously filled with cherries and chocolate—and called it Boomchunka, a company built around a story of a cherry kingdom was born. From the very beginning—and still 30-some years later—that kingdom’s tale has incorporated life (supporting the lifestyle of the North and its farmers), liberty (freedom for employees to make a difference or make a customer’s day), beaches (fun) and pie (generosity). In a way, the company’s whole mission was crafted around a statement Bob’s father would often make to him and his siblings, says Cherry Republic’s Marketing Director Andrew Moore: “Have fun, and be good.”
Today, as a growing business with about 125 full-time employees and many more seasonal hires, Cherry Republic does good by purchasing more than two million pounds of fruit annually from Michigan farmers to craft into 200 products like salsas and mustards, soda and wine, pancake mixes and cherry-nut snack blends. Through a pledge to give back one percent of sales each year, the company has donated $2 million to organizations that protect Michigan’s lands and waters.
Additionally, a “Cherrish Michigan” campaign is giving $1 from each sale of several popular fruit and nut mixes to select nonprofits, among them Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, a Traverse City-based organization devoted to growing the local food economy, expanding clean energy infrastructure and sustaining livable cities and towns.
“I didn’t want to see all those beautiful hillsides lined with housing instead of cherry trees,” Bob says. “The purest and simplest, least political way I could help farmers was by selling cherries. It was a niche that needed to be filled.”
Today, the roomy store in downtown Traverse City is the biggest by volume sold. But fans will always love visiting the Glen Arbor campus where you enter under a cherry tree, walk paths that wind amid perennials and pass an Olympic pit-spitting arena and signs like “peaches, smeaches” and one oft-photographed favorite that reads: “This business is run by simpletons: Selling more than one fruit would be too complicated.”
The company recently added cherry queso to its popular line of cherry salsas. There’s a new cherry-lime soda that tested particularly well, some new salad dressings and a wine developed when a farmer had a bumper crop of a rare cherry and didn’t know what to do with it all.
New products come from “anything we can think up, how we can add cherry to it and make it our own,” Andrew says. But today’s focus is on new categories—things such as cherry nutraceuticals, savory foods and wine—such a hit that Cherry Republic is now among the state’s top largest wineries by volume.
Just as product creation has stepped up, so has generosity. Through Operation Cherry Cheer, customers can nominate people who need their spirits lifted. Cherry Republic has sent free goodies to 250 people so far and is now moving to gifting surprises twice each week.
And then there’s the pie.
Bob is known for the way he gives everyone pie when they come to his home, and when a business associate or consultant comes to a store, the visit always ends with a slice.
“Pie is our generosity piece,” Andrew says, “and Bob always talks about that, how he loves sharing a piece of pie. It’s just something he’s always done—always thinking of others and how we can give back.”
Find this and more food and drink articles in the January 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.