Jim Hiller’s Blog

A Fine Holiday Stink

O Lutefisk, O Lutefisk, how fragrant your aroma,

O Lutefisk, O Lutefisk, you put me in a coma.
You smell so strong, you look like glue,
You taste just like an overshoe,
But lutefisk, come Saturday,
I tink I eat you anyvay

Cloistered among the oddest of holiday traditions is the Scandinavians’ consumption of Lutefisk.

It seems only natural that the descendants of the Vikings, perhaps history’s greatest tough guys, would celebrate a food prepared with a caustic and highly dangerous substance. Lute –(cod) fisk preserved in lye (lut)—is both a delicacy and a tradition among Scandinavian-Americans, who serve the chemical-soaked, gelatinous fish with a warm and friendly smile. Lutefisk, or lutfisk in Swedish, is a traditional dish in Norway, Sweden, and parts of Finland.

These days the consumption of Lutefisk is mainly limited to the Northern tier of American states where those same descendants of Vikings now reside and consider it a connection to their ancestral home.

A Lutefisk starts as cod, traditionally caught in the cold waters off Norway. It’s then dried to the point that it attains the feel of leather and the firmness of corrugated cardboard. Water alone can’t reconstitute the fish, so it’s soaked in lye. Yes, lye, the industrial chemical used to unclog drains and dispose of murder victims, the one that explodes when it comes in contact with aluminum. Incidentally, it’s the same chemical that gives pretzels that deep, shiny brown, cures fresh olives for eating, and what makes bagels gleam; these foods just don’t advertise this fact like lutefisk does. The fish is then repeatedly rinsed before being shipped off for cooking and eating. But it’s still so close to toxic that the state of Wisconsin specifically exempts lutefisk from classification as a toxic substance in Section 101.58 (2)(j)(f) of its laws regulating workplace safety.

Traditional lutefisk preparation is simple. Merely place it in a pan, (do not use an aluminum pan as the lye in the fish will discolor the pan)salt it, seal the lid tightly, and let it steam-cook at very low heat for 20–25 minutes.

You can also make traditional Minnesota lutefisk recipes in your oven. Place the fish in an ovenproof dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 225 °C (435 °F) for 40–50 minutes.

Toppings vary from bacon or pork drippings, white sauce, mustard sauce, or melted butter still the most traditional way to top the lutefisk.

Boiled and steamed potatoes, stewed whole, and green peas are a traditional “must” as vegetable accompaniments or side dishes. The one other “necessary” addition is lefse a type of flatbread

And if you’re wondering… Hiller’s does carry Lutefisk but only during the holiday season. Look for it with the other frozen fish products if you have the stomach for it….

It’s on my personal holiday menu this year.

Hiller’s is your Huckleberry

doc-holidayI’m always amused when I meet customers who tell me that they only shop at Hiller’s for holidays and important events. They believe we’re too special for everyday shopping… Apparently they have overlooked the fact that we have Froot Loops , Pepsi, Spam,Tide and Charmin toilet paper and all at very competitive prices… It’s true… Hiller’s has everything from Spam to caviar; not only caviar. There’s about 50,000 items in between that covers everything a family needs day to day and week to week. Best of all it’s all under one roof so you don’t need to waste fuel driving to different places to satisfy your grocery needs.  We even give you loyalty club points for every dollar you spend at Hiller’s which translates to special offer’s, free products, reduced prices and even charitable donations.

Am I biased? Of course I am, but why not see for yourself. Compare our aisles to any or all of our competitors. I’m confident that you’ll conclude what so many of your friends and neighbors already have. Hiller’s provides genuine value. And, when price and value coexist it’s a beautiful and rare thing…

The Rite of Spring

Spencer-HillerThe 3rd Friday of March is a singularly important day to a singularly important part of the future health and wellbeing of these United States.

It is none other than National Residency Match Day and for the graduates of medical schools every year it determines where they will train in their respective specialties’ on the road to becoming practicing physicians anywhere from 3 to 12 years thereafter.

I have been fortunate to be immersed in the ritual fire dance that finding a desirable residency match entails twice in my life. Most currently with my son Spencer who graduates in May 2014 from University of Michigan Medical School.

Securing a spot in a choice residency program is no easy thing. Spencer chose a career in Urology which is a particularly tough to get specialty and much hard work is involved on the student’s part he or she is to succeed. In Spence’s case, he spent a month working in a Urology program in California at Keck School of Medicine at USC, at University of Michigan Hospital Department of Urology and at Beaumont Hospital Department of Urology. During each of those rotations every day was a two-way audition with each seeking to demonstrate worthiness of the others’ desire. Naturally the prospective resident needs to work the harder of the two in order to demonstrate their worth; especially when seeking a career in a specialty like Urology where only about 60% of applicants find a matching program.

In a perfect situation every residency program would have hundreds of medical students to choose among and every program would want every student but that is far from the case. Obtaining a spot in a storied and top quality residency program is highly competitive and there is a paucity of available openings.

Following this period of rotating through numerous programs by the students, both the medical students and the residency programs rank each other in order of desirability.

Finally… through the facilitation of a third party corporation the lists of both the medical students and the residency programs are spun through a wash and dry cycle and for many or most medical students and residency programs a match occurs.

On Friday March 21, 2014 I sat in a room at University of Michigan Medical School as the drama of the residency match came to its conclusion. At precisely 12:00 noon envelopes were distributed to each medical student containing a letter advising them where they would be spending the next phase of their training.

For many there were tears of joy. At U of M Medical School most students get their first or second choice. For a few there were tears of sadness that they did not and for one or two there was no match at all so other paths to the future have to be explored.

In case you’re wondering. Spencer Charles Hiller, University of Michigan medical class of 2014 will be a Urology Resident at Beaumont Hospital.

A basket of benefits

I have been asked innumerable times why Hiller’s doesn’t have the lowest price on every item we sell when compared to our surfeit of competitors. My answer is always the same. It’s because Hiller’s gives you genuine value in ways nobody else does.

The real essence of value is the tradeoff between the benefits a customer receives and the price he or she pays for it. And in life as we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.

Need we say more?

Hiller's grapes

Hiller’s grapes vs. the competition


A leap of faith

Every time we decide to open a new Hiller’s we take a mighty leap of faith. I suppose from a distance it appears to be an uncomplicated act of merely replicating the past. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The decision of where to locate a new store can take months, even years. It takes into account current residences and forecasts of future rooftops within a 4 mile radius. A grocery cannot succeed in a vacuum . We must have lots of houses nearby. The balancing act is that we seek an area that is in a growth phase and not its dotage because families with kids make the best customers. They tend to eat at home often instead of  going to restaurants .

Once we’ve chosen the site or at least the area, next comes the decision of the size of the store. In the years I’ve been in the grocery business the so-called ideal size has gone from about 18,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet and now many believe to as much as 125,000 square feet. From where I sit a full-service grocery should be around 45,0000 or 50,000 square feet. Our newest location in South Lyon is 53,000 square feet. We plumped up a bit to add a demo kitchen and wine and beer bar.

Once we’ve made the decisions of location and size the real fun starts. We begin the design of the store layout. This amounts to hundreds of small choices that are made by an arm wrestle between our design and operations team on one side and our financial group on the other. The justification for and price of each refrigerated case, shelf and accoutrement must be argued and decided . After all..small businesses like ours don’t have the money in the bank to build a store. We must borrow it from a bank and sadly they expect us to pay it back and not consider it a gift. Once we’ve put our design and our specifications on paper we begin the process of negotiating with banks to find one who is willing to provide the financing for our leap of faith.

From the inception to the store opening can easily take 3 or 4 years. During that time, like a small boat in a storm, we are buffeted by the economy, differing food trends, vagaries of consumer preference and even changes in the financial markets.

At long last, we open the doors of a new Hiller’s with fingers crossed for luck and with the full knowledge that for our leap of faith to succeed we must do our very best every day to give our customers the quality, service and shopping experience they desire.

Our newest location at 10-Mile Road and Johns Road in South Lyon took almost 5 years to complete. I welcome your review of our latest leap of faith