By Edible staff
Photos courtesy of Ehlers family
If Steve Ehlers has any pull in the Hereafter, he’d use it to make sure Chris Roelli would take Best of Show at the 2016 American Cheese Society awards. We can all rest easy tonight, knowing that there is indeed an afterlife, and someone up there has a soft spot for Wisconsin cheeses.
Steve was one of the strongest forces behind the transformation of his father’s corner grocery store, Larry’s Market, from dry goods and staples to chevre and gouda. Today, Larry’s Market is the go-to source for the finest in Wisconsin cheeses and artisanal foods—a vision Steve had after attending a Fancy Food show in New York with his father.
His interest in fine foods wasn’t home grown, at least not initially. A trip to France as a teenager tipped the first domino, igniting in him a lifelong interest. Coming back to Wisconsin, his appetite whet, he cooked family dinner, taking his cues from the elegant French recipes he’d experienced abroad, coupled with the guidance of his mother and Julia Child.
Larry’s Market changed with the times, and Steve helped nudge those changes towards the fixture we know and love today—a neighborhood gourmet market with a warm, family feel. Patty Ehlers Peterson, Steve’s sister, will tell you they try to know every customer by name—the type of touch Steve implemented by instinct.
Steve was as rare as a wheel of Rush Creek Reserve, and just as complex—a keen businessman, but infused with a strong moral compass that made business not just monetary, but humanitarian—the sales floor as culinary mission field. He coached countless Wisconsin cheesemakers not only in production of their fromage, but also in how to properly market it. “Charge what you’re worth the first time, right from the beginning,” he would tell them. “Show the value in your cheese, don’t sell yourself short.” He took his ministry on the road, volunteering with the American Cheese Society with tenacity.
Steve was an early cheerleader for Edible Milwaukee, believing in us even when we may not have believed in ourselves. His smile welcomed us to many planning meetings held after hours in Larry’s, as EMKE staff rolled in after long shifts at our respective day jobs, his energetic eyes and plates of cheese sustained us, both in different ways. You see, Steve knew the secret: do the right thing, and the right thing will be done to you. His excitement for EMKE was palpable, his passion infectious.
We miss Steve. He was a character, had a great sense of humor, and made sure the people in his world were taken care of. He saw potential everywhere, and threw himself into making the improbable, probable. He faced challenges head on, loved fiercely, and boundlessly supported his family and friends. We will always miss Steve.
It is the brightest flame that burns so briefly, but what warmth and light it brings in its time. Steve was a husband, a father, a friend, an ally, an advocate, and an impassioned champion of artisanal food. He passed away on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at the age of 65.