The staff at Maw’s Produce seek to make their customers feel welcomed and valued while producing friendships that have spanned many years. This is clearly evident in the long list of those receiving their monthly mailing, the repeat customers that span several states and the many vendors who contribute to the ambiance and charm of the business through a lifelong partnership.
Locals have likely driven down N.C. 105 in Foscoe and seen the sign for Maw’s Produce shop along the road. The savvy shopper will indeed find food that has been grown (usually locally) including a variety of fruits and vegetables, cakes, pies, frozen meals, cheeses, “Shindig Rolls,” sauces, jams and jellies, to name a few.
Additionally, the upstairs of the shop displays homemade items such as children’s clothing, knitting, quilts, decorative woodwork, jewelry, pottery and paintings.
The business concept was developed by Danny Kirkland, owner of Lett-Us-Produce — a larger wholesale operation that supplies produce to over 100 resorts, restaurants and grocery stores in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties. He wanted to develop a retail outlet as a complement to the business and tapped his newly retired mother, Sue Kirkland, to operate the shop in 1995.
The shop was run by Sue from that first location in 1995 until her death in January 2020. During that time she also served on the Board of Grandfather Home for Children and was an elder and deacon of her Presbyterian church. Now her daughter-in-law Jackie Kirkland is involved in the bookkeeping for both Maw’s and Lett-Us-Produce, as well as being the supplier of the pies that are sold there.
Since its first small outdoor stand near Foscoe Mining, its popularity grew quickly and has moved locations four times. Manager Brenda Jackson says that the business is still growing, but that the current location across from the Salvation Army on N.C. 105 seems “to fit” with the size of their parking lot and their facility. They have been at their present address since 2000.
Over time, Maw’s has provided employment for many of the local women who have been engaged in the business for several years. With the passing of Sue, Brenda — who has been with Maw’s for over 20 years — took over management responsibilities. Produce manager, and dubbed the “peanut queen” at Maw’s, Karen McCard has been there more than 10 years. This is the third year for Mary Holstein, but only the first for Jessica Shoemake and Jada Tourville. The family name lives on in Molly Kirkland, granddaughter of Susan, who has been working there before heading off to college this fall.
The lone male employee is Charlie Gough, who is the third of the Gough boys to be given their first job at Maw’s. Both of his older brothers began their work experience at the produce stand.
When asked about the name of the shop, son Danny admitted that he never called his mom “maw” while growing up. But he decided that “maw” was a good country version of “mom” that had a good mountain feel to it.
Sue established a policy of checking each piece of produce every day before the shop opened: peaches, apples, corn, melons, tomatoes and other items. In that way, every item sold was fresh and without blemish. If an item does have a bruise it becomes part of what the store calls the “give aways” that sit on the counter and are offered for free. Another method for developing repeat customers was remembering the names of the people who shopped there. The remaining Maw’s staff say that Sue had a phenomenal knack for remembering names.
Maw’s operates from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. every day May into November, thus offering several seasons of fine and fresh food offerings, as well as a variety of gift items. The goods of over 30 local suppliers, many of whom are local women, are on display and for sale. In the edibles area of the store, offerings come from Betty Jo Hicks (apple butter); Sandra Malone and Brenda Moore (pound cakes); Peipe Church (pimento cheese/cornbread); and Marsha Moore (buckeye candies).
Sue opened the upstairs of the house for craft vendors, of which 98 percent are women: Brenda Cook (soaps); Sara Drummond and Vandi Montero (pottery); Becky Kennedy (knitting); Wendy Smith and Robin Rowe (paintings); Janice Martin (decorative rocks); Kathi Grey (quilts); Dinia and Faye Wheeler (dolls and crochet items); and Lynn Wilms (greeting cards). The woodworking section features products made by locals Patti and Kate Buck, Emily and John McCoy, and Bill Piastuch.
There is also a unique financial system begun by Sue; there is no cash register, just a basket full of change and another one for bills on the counter. She also established an unusual system for placing orders: clothespins marked with the day of the week hold the orders that need to be placed as the week progresses. Each vendor is contacted with the details of the order, and the date for delivery of the items. These methods of doing business have lasted for more than 26 years and certainly further present that down-home atmosphere.
Visiting Maw’s, customers not only can purchase produce but can also walk away with a warm feeling of welcome in a truly Southern style. This is all thanks to the leading woman, Sue, who left her mark on the business, as well as the other women still providing hospitality to patrons.