Monday – Saturday – 7:30 am – 6:00 pm
Sunday – 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Bertrand Grocery Store Finds Niche Providing Home-Cooked Meals
Brenda Johnson never dreamed she’d own a grocery store.
The lifelong Bertrand resident always wanted to own her own business, and she had looked into different options before realizing the well-established grocery business in downtown Bertrand might be the best venture for her and her husband, Jerry.
“I didn’t think I would be doing this, but you never know where God is going to take you,” Brenda said.
Brenda and Jerry bought the Countryside Market in 2008, and for the past 10 years they have served their small community by providing basic food necessities plus much more, including home-cooked meals, gifts, home décor, candy bouquets, and for a while they even offered social crafting events.
Immediately after they purchased the store, a local farmer asked Brenda if they would supply sack lunches for crews during harvest.
“Basically that’s how it started, and we haven’t quit cooking since,” she said. “It has been a huge plus. It was a blessing that they asked us to do that because at this point, nobody likes to cook anymore.”
The market offers a noon deli special Monday through Saturday.
“It’s a take-it-or-leave-it menu,” Brenda said. “It’s one dish, and it comes with all the extras with it.”
The menu throughout the week includes chicken enchiladas on Mondays, chicken and noodle or beef and noodle over mashed potatoes on Tuesdays, creamed potatoes and ham or tater tot casserole on Wednesdays, meatballs and cheesy potatoes on Thursdays, prime rib or loaded pork sandwiches on Fridays, and cook’s choice on Saturdays.
Each meal is typically served with a vegetable and a dessert, and some meals also come with a dinner roll. Brenda typically serves different desserts each day whether it’s coffee cake, brownies, cookie bars or the “pie dessert,” which is like a pie but in bar form with a crust, filling and crumbled sugar-cookie dough topping.
On Wednesday afternoons, the market serves barbecued ribs from 3 to 6 p.m. or until they run out.
“They are hot and ready to eat, all doused up in sauce and everything,” she said. “Those go over really well.”
The store typically serves anywhere from 15 to 60 customers during the lunch hour. Most take their meals to go, but there is a small sitting area where diners can enjoy their meal. Coffee and fruit smoothies are also available throughout the day. If there are leftovers after lunch, customers have the opportunity to buy the single-serve meals out of the deli. The store also serves cheese balls, veggie trays, meat trays, fruit trays and their famous Charlie’s Potato Bologna.
Famous Potato Bologna
“Probably our biggest thing that we are known for is Charlie’s Potato Bologna,” Brenda said. “That is a family recipe of my husband’s. Charlie was his dad. His dad had two kidney transplants, and in the process of being home and with his health, he kind of perfected this recipe in particular.”
The bologna began as a Swedish Christmas dish, and it traditionally comes in a ring. But, the Johnsons also make it into patties that can be used as a breakfast meat or as a hors d’oeuvre.
“Now people are cooking it on the grill in the summer time, tailgating,” Brenda said.
Charlie’s Potato Bologna has helped Bertrand receive statewide recognition; it’s been the potato bologna capital of Nebraska for the past five years.
Along with grocery items, the Bertrand Countryside Market sells crafts, home décor, greeting cards, balloons, candy bouquets and more. Brenda offered crafting nights for about two years, but when interest began to wane she put craft nights on hold last spring.
“When I first started, I’d get up to 15 a night, and I’d do a couple nights during the month, but it had just dwindled enough. … It was a blast. It was really fun. I enjoyed it,” she said.
Brenda said they receive great support from the community of Bertrand, from both younger and older generations. Five local residents, led by Karen Nelson, even began a GoFundMe fundraiser for the Countryside Market when the store experienced a breakdown in its coolers recently. The fundraiser began Dec. 7 and brought in about $1,600 to help with cost of repairs and replacing a cooler.
“My favorite part is, hands down, the people,” Nelson said of the Countryside Market. “Brenda, Willa, Diana – they’re who I see all the time. And we really do solve all the world’s problems in front of the meat slicer.”
Along with small-town hospitality, patrons can find items at the Countryside Market they might not be able to find at larger grocery stores, like Nebraska products such as Holen One barbecue sauces and spices or Country Neighbor Sweet Onion Dressing.
“A lot of times through Grow Nebraska we find those different kinds of products to bring in,” she said. “Generally, if they are small, they just kind of starting hitting places and ask you if you are interested in carrying their items.”
For Brenda, the biggest challenge of owning and operating the grocery store is determining how many fresh products like produce, milk and meats to sell each week.
“That’s the biggest challenge because it’s really hard to swallow when you dump two cases of milk down the sink or a case of strawberries that has rotted because nobody bought strawberries that week,” she said.
That part of the job never gets easier, she said. But working with her customers makes it all worth it.
“My favorite part is being with the people, being able to accommodate them and the social part of it. … They are all like family,” she said.
Countryside Market is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to Noon on Sunday. For more information, visit them on Facebook or on the website at www.countrysidemarketbertrand.com .