BY CHRISTIANA ROUSSEL
Take one bite of an Ousler Sandwich, and you know you are eating something truly special. Many of us have enjoyed the finger-sized sandwiches at garden club luncheons, baby showers, board meetings or just on the run. Each bite of pimiento cheese on white bread or chicken salad on wheat tastes fresher than the last. The funny thing is, these sandwiches are just shy of being 100 years old.
In 1915, Mr. Dana Ousler opened his sandwich shop in Five Points South at the corner of 9th Avenue and 22nd Street South. Sixteen-year-old Christine Campbell helped run the shop, taking orders and making sandwiches from scratch. She worked for Ousler until she got married and became Mrs. Elmore.
Elmore and her husband had two children, Bill and Jayne, and enjoyed the life they were building together. Sadly, those plans were cut short when a mining accident killed her husband. Ousler welcomed her back at the sandwich shop to fashion a new life for her to support herself and her children.
Elmore enjoyed everything about Ousler Sandwiches, so much so that when Mr. Ousler wanted to retire in 1953, she bought the business from him. After all, who knew the business better than she? Bill and Jayne continued to help run the shop with their mother and make it truly her own.
In 1971, they moved Ousler Sandwiches to Avondale where they had better space. They continued to grow the business, eventually adding wholesale clients to the list of customers clamoring for those fantastic sandwiches. In fact, you can still find Ousler sandwiches in vending machines and construction sites all over Birmingham.
Eventually, Jayne wanted to retire from the business and that meant that Bill and his wife, Becky, would be running the business with Elmore. A smaller space was needed, and in 2005 the business relocated to Mountain Brook Village, just down from Bromberg’s Jewelry. As Becky tells it, “This spot is perfect for us. It is centrally located and many of our customers live right here!”
Sadly, Christine Elmore passed away in early 2006 but not before creating a real legacy.
“We still use Christine’s recipes for everything we make,” Becky said. “Chicken salad is the most popular, but we sell a lot of pimiento cheese, egg salad, ham salad, and ham and cheese sandwiches too.”
The Ousler Sandwich shop has a truly timeless feel. One look around and you notice that there is no computer in sight. Just like every sandwich made at Ousler, all of the work is still done by hand. All of the orders, all of the inventory, all of the books — done the old-fashioned way, on paper. Bill and Becky’s children now help run the family business. Jenny, LeAnn and Brian thought they might get their parents to start using a computer to run the business, but Bill just laughs and says the only concession he and Becky made is to put in an electronic cash register. They still only take checks and cash.
“Nothing here is complicated,” Becky said. “We’re very simple people. That’s why the chicken salad is so popular; it is just simple and people like that.”
The Elmores are enjoying the Mountain Brook Village home for their business.
“Aside from just being easy to get to, there is a kindness that runs through Mountain Brook that we really appreciate,” Becky said. “We hear stories from folks every day about our sandwiches and what they mean to them. There was a father who ordered some to take to his daughter at the hospital when she was having her first child. Another customer told me they had Ousler sandwiches at their wedding 50 years ago, and they ordered some for their anniversary. It warms our hearts to know that we are included in their family traditions.”
That sounds like a simple recipe for success.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. You can follow her culinary musings on line at http://www.ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook or Twitter (Christiana40).
2814 Cahaba Road
Mountain Brook Village