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It may be more than a year before shops, restaurants and grocery stores can stock Edwards ham products like they could before Edwards’ Surry smokehouse burned to the ground last month.
But for the Williamsburg Edwards store and local restaurants, country ham could be back on shelves and served on tables in time for Easter.
“If they were buying our product before, they will be able to get it again until we run out again, but hopefully we can get rebuilt,” said Sam Edwards III, president of Edwards Virginia Smokehouse.
Edwards said there were 14,000 hams in cold storage when the fire took place Jan. 19. He is now in the process of identifying a USDA plant where the company can cook, de-bone, slice, dice and package ham products.
“We’re trying to find one that’s suitable, that has the ability to do it the way we do it,” Edwards said. “So far we haven’t found it.”
A fresh sausage manufacturer has been identified, but Edwards said it has been harder to find a high quality smoked sausage manufacturer to take the family recipe, which originated with his grandfather in the 1920s.
“Our smoked sausage is so unique to us that I don’t think they’re going to be able to duplicate the flavor,” Edwards said. “I don’t want to put it on the market if it’s not right.”
This could mean products like smoked sausage may not be available until after the smokehouse is rebuilt.
“These are secret family recipes, so it’s very difficult for me to even show them to someone who is in the meat business,” Edwards said.
He said he anticipates product will be “back online” in Virginia in the next week or two, but he expects the ham in cold storage to run out in the next three to five months.
The Surry and Williamsburg shops will be the first Edwards retail stores to be restocked.
At the Williamsburg shop, located at the corner of Richmond and Olde Towne roads, customers can still order sandwiches with the smoked sausage. There is a variety of bacon and some sausage on the shelves, but only a handful of each packaged product is available.
Terry Carr and Erin Pitts at the Williamsburg shop said they are keeping a list of customers who hope to be the first to receive new product.
Customers come in with a craving for the taste of Edwards products or a desire to buy a country ham for a celebration. Carr and Pitts said they are looking forward to being restocked.
Edwards said Williamsburg-area restaurants that use Edwards products include Old Chickahominy House, the Cheese Shop, Waypoint Grill, The Trellis Bar and Grill, Blue Talon Bistro, Chef’s Kitchen, Hound’s Tale, Colonial Williamsburg and more.
Maxine Williams, owner of the Old Chickahominy House, said the restaurant has used Edwards ham in all of its products since it opened 61 years ago.
She said the restaurant has “enough hams to carry [it] through,” thanks to a purchase from a company that had Edwards ham in stock. However, this ham has not been cured and smoked as long as the ham Old Chickahominy House has traditionally served, Williams said.
Some customers prefer this ham, which is “more moist,” she said.
“This is a great ham. It’s just not quite the cure we’ve been used to,” Williams said. “We’ve got a positive response because everyone is devastated over the fact [Edwards] lost that business, the memorabilia.”
Tammy Schumacher, cheese board manager at the Cheese Shop, said the shop used the slow-cooked ham on sandwiches and sold it by the pound. After the fire, she ordered cases from a distributor but ran out of product in a week.
A comparable product has replaced the Edwards ham, Schumacher said. Customers are understanding, but some are still surprised when she says there won’t be Edwards for a while.
“We think [Edwards] is the best Virginia ham,” Schumacher said. “We’re making-do until we get more.”
Adam Steely, general manager and owner of Blue Talon Bistro, said Edwards ham has been a “constant presence” on the restaurant’s menu since it opened. The chopped ham is used in Blue Talon’s macaroni and cheese, he said.
He is confident the restaurant has enough product to continue preparing menu items “with little disruption.”
“We would hate for that to change how we present our dish,” Steely said. “We’re feeling good with what we’re hearing from [Edwards] that they will be able to keep us in product going forward.”
Edwards said he is exploring all options for resuming operations.
It could be a year to 18 months before a new smokehouse can open, he said. The first products back online would be bacon and sausage, but country ham would take longer, as pieces take anywhere between three months and 18 months to age.
Edwards asks customers to be patient as the company works to restock.
“We’ve been very thankful for their support. It’s been overwhelming, not just in Virginia but across the country,” Edwards said. “It means a lot to hear from direct consumers to the restaurants and stores.”
Local business owners say they want to continue to support a local operation like Edwards Virginia Smokehouse.
“It’s great when you have someone who specializes in one thing and does it that well and has made it a mission to really pursue quality,” Steely said. “It’s just revolutionary in America, and I think they’re setting a standard and we want to be part of that.”