Religious principles and solid business sense converge at Braker’s Market outside Eureka, a throwback to an earlier era
Family vacations and stops at Amish markets where you could buy flour, sugar and other staples including candy in bulk and find unique home décor items, toys and clothing gave the Braker family of Eureka the spark of an idea for a future business opportunity.
“As a family, we liked to stop at these types of stores and we thought it would be fun — on a much smaller scale — to operate one,” said Rebecca Braker, 47, who with her husband, Phil, 46, and their eight children own and operate Braker’s Market.
With eight kids ages 6 to 24, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law and three infant- and toddler-age granddaughters, it also offered the opportunity to work together as a family, said Phil.
Becoming a destination
The market sits on the south side of Route 24 off Cruger Road, just west of the Woodford County seat of Eureka. Motorists can’t miss what was a former cabinet-making business that now sports the body of an old red pickup truck on the roof. It’s nestled right next to the family’s Countryside Barns business, which offers outdoor furniture, pergolas, gazebos and playsets.
The family’s business plan, Phil explained, began with the barns in 2009. Furniture was added in 2016, followed by the playsets in 2017 and additional outdoor structures in 2019.
Plans for the market came about after the Brakers purchased the building of the defunct cabinet-making business, along with the five acres upon which it sits, in 2019.
“We had a lot of work to do on the building to switch it over to a market,” Phil said.
The Brakers talked to a lot of store owners and vendors to understand what infrastructure was needed for the type of market they wanted. They knew they wanted to offer bulk baking ingredients, dry goods and candy, jams and jellies, coffee and tea, and an extensive deli with nearly 30 varieties of deli meats and 45 types of cheeses from their main food vendor, Walnut Creek Foods located in the heart of Amish Country in Walnut Creek, Ohio.
“There’s really nothing like this in the area,” Phil said.
Called to serve
The Braker family lives within a mile of their businesses and are members of the Apostolic Christian Faith Church of Eureka.
The Brakers cite the vow at the core of their promise: “Every day we strive to bring you the best-quality goods and services. We endeavor to always be kind and fair and to treat every customer with integrity. By treating others the way we wish to be treated and ‘being as good as our word,’ our goal is to exceed the expectations of every customer. We believe that God has called us to serve. It is our sincere desire to do this each day with joy and gratitude in our hearts.”
“Faith means everything” to the family, said Rebecca.
“If there are things we can do to help our children by providing them with a good foundation, that’s what’s important,” she said. “We also feel it’s important to be a good light in our community.”
A pre-pandemic ‘blessing’
Braker’s Market opened on Feb. 19, 2020. Yes, that was less than one month before the widespread shutdown of businesses and life in general due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Within a month, we pretty much panicked,” Rebecca acknowledged.
“Within a month, things turned upside down,” added Phil. “We opened. Business dropped for a couple weeks and then it totally became a blessing.”
In short order, business became brisk. “People just didn’t want to go to the big box stores,” said Phil. “In the end, God knew exactly what we needed.”
And then an opportunity they hadn’t even planned to offer was born out of necessity, Rebecca said.
“The Apostolic churches around here serve lunch on Sundays. All the churches had closed, and we had all these hams that had been ordered. What are we going to do with all of these hams?” she said. “We decided to make Easter dinners to go.”
That new business line took off immediately, with the market offering other dinners to go, take-and-bake casseroles and other items in the freezer section and eventually catering.
Everything and then some
In addition to stocking an untold number of goods, Braker’s Market has an eat-in café offering made-to-order deli and hot sandwiches, soups, hand-dipped ice cream and flavored coffee. Daily lunch specials are available, along with indoor and outdoor seating.
Their homemade cinnamon rolls, caramel rolls, pies, bread, cookies and rolls are in high demand, especially around the holidays. They also offer a variety of frozen homemade casseroles in addition to locally raised beef, pork and appetizers.
But the market has more than just food.
There are puzzles, books, tractors, dolls and wooden toys by Melissa & Doug, kitchenware such as Rada knives, World’s Best dish clothes, Nordic Ware baking pans and cookbooks, too.
They also stock candles, lotions, soaps, baby clothes and gifts, décor items, vitamins, supplements, essential oils, Trim Healthy Mama products and long skirts and modest apparel that are hard to find elsewhere.
Catching up with the demand
Earlier this year, the Brakers expanded the kitchen area and the freezer and refrigerator storage areas to accommodate their growth.
Phil and Rebecca both acknowledge that they can’t keep up with the demand for baked goods and homemade food, areas that beg for expansion. The location is landlocked, so future growth is just a dream for now.
Jamie McFarlin, president of the Eureka Business Association, said the market is a great asset to the community.
‘probably the best thing: every single person is sincere and kind and takes care of you ’
“We are very excited they are here,” she said. “They have a lot of support from the community. They stock things that aren’t necessarily able to be found in our community, and in bulk,” she said. “And the quality of items they offer for retail is really amazing.”
Having the market “on this side of the river” makes it convenient, too, she said.
Talk to customers of Braker’s Market and there’s a recurring theme: variety, friendliness, cleanliness, quality.
“We’ve been coming here since it opened,” said Holly Bour of Washington, who was shopping with her mom, Kathy Urban of Peoria. “It’s amazing all the unique things you can get here and the packaged dry goods and spices. Oh, and the candy. We love the candy aisle.”
“It’s a fun place to come,” added Urban. “I always tell her when it’s time to make a run. And the deli and the prices are fabulous.”
Shannon Isbell of Morton and Robyn Reinmann of Normal work in Metamora and make regular lunch runs to Braker’s. “The quality. Everything is really good, and quick,” Reinmann said.
“I love the grab-and-go deli meat and cheeses,” added Caroline Raney of Eureka. “You can just grab the amount you need to feed the number you need … But probably the best thing: Every single person is sincere and kind and takes care of you. They make you feel good about coming in.”
Phil Braker appreciates that kind of feedback.
“I told people I didn’t know if anyone would walk in the doors when we opened,” he said. “Well, they did. Now the biggest thing is to listen to those customers.”