Valerie Phillips: Harmon's still thriving after 80 years in business

Published: Tuesday, July 31 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

"We heard a lot about WalMart, long before they got here," said Randy Harmon. "They won't let you compete on price, so we don't try to, although we can come close. We have differentiated ourselves in the last 10 years with food that's fresh, quality, and prepared on-site. We try to buy our food direct from the producer, and minimally processed."

The company worked closely with producers to shorten the time it takes to get fresh produce, meat, fish, dairy and baked goods to the store. They began grinding their own beef and made their own sausages in-store. They also sell all-natural meat and poultry that's not plumped with salt water, additives or hormones.

Instead of deli items made elsewhere and shipped to the stores, chefs work on site preparing salads, breads, entrees, soups and sandwiches for the deli. For instance, on the morning of July 25, store chefs from Ogden to St. George gathered around the stoves at the City Creek culinary school to test and taste each others' soup recipes. The goal was to standardize the soup recipes used at all the stores, so that people could expect the same soups no matter which Harmons store they visited.

The Harmon brothers admit the "quality" mantra can be a hard sell to people who focus only on price.

"It may not be priced as low as someone else, but the quality of the product and shelf life is where the value is," said Bob Harmon. "We have very astute customers. They are very knowledgeable, and they are looking for clean, healthy food. You can only get 'fresh' once."

Looking back on the history of Harmons stores, a curious question sometimes comes up. Founder Jake Harmon is a brother to Pete Harman, the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee who helped Colonel Sanders build his recipe into a worldwide brand. Yet, the two spell their names differently.

Pete Harman has told the story that Jake ordered an expensive sign for his new store. When it arrived, the name was misspelled, and the cost to correct it was prohibitive. It seemed easier to change the name than the sign.

"That's one version of the story," said Randy Harmon. "Another version is that Jake and Irene's marriage license was spelled with an 'o' instead of an 'a,' and it was going to cost a lot to correct it."

"So that tells you something about who my grandfather was," Bob Harmon said, noting that when he was starting out in business, the country was struggling through the Depression era, and money was tight. "Family name meant a great deal to him, but at the end of the day, he was trying to make a go of it, and it was important to get his business started."

No matter how it's spelled, the Harmon name is one that has become well-known in Utah over the past 80 years.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Email: vphillips@desnews.com

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