By Jessica Mozo
Expect to find an out-of-this-world ham sandwich when you visit Canale’s Grocery on Raleigh-LaGrange Road in Eads, but don’t expect to find a place to sit down and savor it.
“Our motto is ‘Stack ’em high, sell ’em low, wrap ’em up and let ’em go,’” says owner Justin Canale with a chuckle. “Everything we offer is to-go.”
That’s just fine with the hoards of loyal customers who have been stopping by Canale’s for their famous ham sandwiches since the combination grocery store, butcher shop and gas station opened 36 years ago. After all, it’s only $2.30 for one of Canale’s ham sandwiches stacked with cheese, lettuce and tomato and slathered with mayo or mustard, and you get a big helping of hometown service on the side.
Owned by brothers Justin and Conn Canale, the family business was originally launched in Bartlett in the mid-1960s by their father George. It moved to Eads in 1970 when the Canales purchased the modest cement block building it resides in today, marked by a faded black-and-white sign that proudly declares: “Canale’s Gro. & Butcher Shop – Home of the Hams.”
Indeed, it is. Canale’s has the capacity to smoke 45 hams at a time in its two stainless steel smokers. Conn arrives at 3 a.m. most days to smoke the hams over charcoal for five to seven hours.
“He’s got it down to perfection,” Justin says. “We use a dry rub, and I think it’s the best ham on the market.”
The customers agree.
Canale’s sells whole and half hams year-round for $5.99 a pound, and they get so many orders during the holiday season that they have to cut people off. They just don’t have the cooler space, Justin apologetically explains.
Construction workers and other loyal patrons make up the majority of Canale’s daily lunch crowd. Many buy chips, soft drinks and other typical small-town grocery fare to go with the ham sandwiches.
“We get backed up around noon making sandwiches when all the workers come in, but we try to get them in and out as quick as possible,” Justin says. “Besides ham, we also have bologna, turkey and roast beef sandwiches. But ham sells the most.”
While Conn runs the smokers, Justin stocks shelves, cleans and does “whatever needs doing.” Older brother Whit (there are seven siblings in all) mans the cash register.
Justin describes the store’s location as “part country, part city” and thinks running the store with his brothers is about as close as you can get to retirement bliss.
“I see a lot of older people who don’t know what to do with themselves, and I like staying busy at this time in my life,” he explains. “We just love keeping busy with our hams.”