In any other small town, the Joseph Decuis Emporium would be the star of Main Street.
Consider the Roanoke retail shop and cafe's Reuben sandwich. It's not just that the corned beef is made in-house, from local steers.
This is Wagyu beef, renowned for its marbling and tenderness. Its genetic stock comes from Japan. Though these steers were raised in the Indiana countryside, the Eshelman family – Pete, his wife, Alice, and brother Tim – insist on following traditional husbandry practices specific to the breed.
And the Reuben isn't even the star of the chalkboard menu hanging above the counter. That would be the Wagyu burger, though locavores also love the salads. On the Cobb, everything from the chicken to the eggs to the Wagyu bacon topping the freshly picked greens originated on the Eshelmans' farm six miles from Roanoke.
A worldly wine shop and a carefully curated selection of fine art – from pottery to oil paintings to handmade kitchen implements – reflect the owners' metropolitan origins as well as their Hoosier farmer enthusiasms.
And yet within the Joseph Decuis universe – which features the signature restaurant consistently rated among the state's best, the Inn at Joseph Decuis and the Joseph Decuis Farmstead Inn, along with the farm itself, which hosts weddings, fundraisers and other catered events – the Emporium “doesn't get the attention it deserves,” admits Alice Eshelman.
“This little gem,” as she calls it, “is an important cog in the wheel.”
If you make reservations at the restaurant, “the phone rings here,” she notes. Book a room at either inn, and you come here to pick up the key.
The Emporium functions as a portal to everything else that the Joseph Decuis brand – and the town itself – has to offer. As an indoor boutique farmer's market that also carries offerings by other regional purveyors of the local foods movement, it also helps move cuts of Wagyu beef that aren't used in the restaurant.
“An 1,800-pound steer only has 18 pounds of tenderloin,” Eshelman notes. “But that leaves a lot of other good cuts of meat.”
In the refrigerator and freezer cases behind the counter you can find flank steaks and short ribs, along with Wagyu bacon, brats and even hot dogs. Take-home tubs of Wagyu chili and gumbo ya-ya, quiches, desserts, dressings and a rotating selection of the 150 varieties of vegetables grown on the farm – year-round, thanks to a hoop house – are also available.
Join the Joseph Decuis Wagyu and Wine Club, and you get two bottles, a portion of beef and a recipe each month. There are also twice-yearly wine tastings, a $25 gift card for joining and 10 percent off all Joseph Decuis products.
“We have wines for everybody,” Eshelman says.
Though the priciest bottle tops $300, two “wines on the barrel” displays feature a $10 special.
Eshelman herself is partial to the Dry Creek Mariner that knocked off a much pricier wine in an informal taste test at dinner one night. This was two doors down in their restaurant; the Emporium sells wine but can't serve it. She also likes Mollydooker, enough so that they named their border collies Molly and Dooker.
Despite the emphasis on good taste, the atmosphere at the Emporium could hardly be more welcoming or less pretentious.
Though on any given day the clientele might include artists, congressmen and visiting chefs, Emporium manager Alesia Cosby notes that “we have regulars who come in and just sit and have coffee and use the Wi-Fi.”
All of them get a smile, and many receive hugs.
The Emporium, says Eshelman, “is a special place.”
“I'm proud of it,” adds Cosby.