CLEARWATER – For the past 13 months, Cincinnati transplants from across the state have traveled to an obscure storefront in Clearwater to get a fresh taste of home.
But Cincy’s Finest Market, which stocks more than 100 Buckeye food fixes, announced this week it is closing at the end of this month – or until supplies last.
“It’s going to be a shocker to a whole lot of people because we’ve got such a huge following on the weekend,” Cincy’s co-owner Billy Stirnkorb said.
The future of the store, if any, won’t be clear for quite some time. “We’ve got all kinds of logistical issues,” he said. “Everything’s up in the air.”
Stirnkorb relocated his family to the Tampa Bay area in 2010 knowing they would miss their family and friends. What they didn’t count on was missing so many of the food products they grew up on in the Cincinnati area.
They found solace by dining regularly at Clearwater’s Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati-style chili franchise along U.S. 19 that’s been owned and operated by John McClure IV for 17 years.
The two businessmen ultimately put their heads together and decided to open a made-only-in-Cincy food shop strategically next to Skyline’s.
The place was a hit from the moment it opened.
“We sold the store out in the first day,” Stirnkorb said. “Cincinnati is a food cult. There are so many regional specialties.”
But the store requires Stirnkorb to head north to his hometown every three to five weeks, a U-Haul hooked to the back of his Suburban, to restock the shelves. It’s an unavoidable necessity – even during winter storms. The products his customers crave simply aren’t sold this far south.
Graeter’s ice cream. Barq’s crème soda. Queen City brats. They’re all here.
Some products, such as Glier’s Goetta, require a little explanation for outsiders.
“It’s like a pork breakfast sausage,” store manager and Cincy native Tom Beckman said. “A German thing. Have it with a runny egg and a piece of toast. There’s nothing like it.”
On a recent afternoon, customers milled down the aisles filling plastic baskets with Frisch’s tartar sauce, J.T.M. beef hoagie patties, and United Dairy Farmers ice cream (Cincinnatians call it UDF). Others skip the baskets and lug their own ice chests from home.
“I love the Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce,” said Flora Calahan, whose family has made the 2½-hour trek from Lehigh Acres to Cincy’s on several occasions. “And my son is crazy about LaRosa’s pizzas. Can’t live without it.”
They’re not the only ones.
“Our customers come from Fort Lauderdale, Ocala, Jacksonville ...,” Beckman said. “Even Ken Griffey Jr. has been here.”
The former Cincinnati Reds outfielder flew in on a private jet from Orlando to pick up his personal favorite – Grippo’s extra hot barbecue potato chips.
“Please say you are NOT really closing. It was an April fool’s joke, right?” one customer posted on the store’s Facebook page this week.
“Sad, especially for all who got to enjoy their hometown foods and for the newcomers, too ...”