Volkswagen's auto assembly plant is not only producing jobs in the Tennessee Valley; it's also adding spice to the Scenic City's cuisine, say merchants at local world food markets.
"As Volkswagen brings more Germans to the city, they are telling us more will be coming, so get ready," said Christina Melnik, who manages Euro Food on Lee Highway with her sister, Elena Melnik. The store is owned by their father, Tony Melnik.
Auto executives aren't the sole driving force behind the interest in global foods. Many local residents also are expanding their culinary horizons.
"Fifty percent of our customers are Americans who travel or just like to cook something different," said Natalia Sokil, whose European Market carries foods from 25 countries.
But she too has noticed a change in her customer base.
"A lot of German people are starting to come in," said Ms. Sokil, who has owned and operated the Gunbarrel Road store for the past decade.
Andreas Fischer, a resident since 1988 and president of the Chattanooga German American Club, said he hopes specialty and mainstream stores will expand their German food offerings as more Germans arrive.
Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Natalia Sokil, center, places a freshly baked loaf of European Rye bread on the shelf at the European Market near Hamilton Place. Oksana Timoshchuk, left, assists at the store with quality control.
Plus, he said, "I am almost sure there will be a German restaurant once the VW plant is up and running. Two hundred-plus families would justify the investment and keep it a profitable enterprise."
Jeff Briere of Chattanooga recently stopped in Euro Food for the first time. He said he's taken a liking to foods once foreign to the American palate.
"When we got there, the rye bread was just coming out of the oven," he said. "It was amazing. And the pickles are homemade. And the Moscow-style ham, imported butters and cheeses are all so good."
Both Euro Food and European Market specialize in home-baked German bread. Ms. Sokil explained that hers comes in partially cooked and frozen from Germany, then she finishes it in the oven in the back of the store.
In addition, she said, the German and Polish sausages are very popular, as are the white fish, cold and hot smoked mackerel, herring, rainbow trout and salmon, all in the front freezer case.
In both stores, you'll find familiar names, such as Heinz, and even Knorr's, a German product. But in these markets, Knorr's mixes and soups retain their native branding: Knolblauch Suppe (creamy garlic soup) and Knuspriges Brathahnchen (a mix for crispy roast chicken), for example.
"The Germans love our European-style meats," added Ms. Melnik, citing cooked brats, salami, liverwurst, schinkenwurst and bier schinken as examples.
And people of every persuasion come in for the smoked gouda and blue cheese.
"The Bosnians love our sheep's cheese (feta)," she said.
Poland native Dana Lesinski said that when she opened Family Food Mart on Brainerd Road 13 years ago, there were few international groceries in Chattanooga.
"As Chattanooga's population becomes more diverse, more markets are opening," she said. "Since I came here 13 years ago, Chattanooga has changed 180 degrees when it comes to foreigners. Now there are four Indian markets, one Bosnian, two Russian and one Arabic. And now, my suppliers are telling me they are starting to get more and more German products in, too."
Though her products are mostly Mediterranean, she said she, too, most likely will begin stocking more German foods.