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Photo by Erica Techo.
LeAnn Elmore Wood and her parents, Becky and Bill Elmore, stand by a photo of Christine Elmore at Ousler’s Sandwiches in Mountain Brook Village.
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Photo courtesy of Ousler’s.
Ousler’s once had trucks that went all over Birmingham to distribute their sandwiches. Ousler’s first opened in Five Points South in 1915 and celebrated 102 years in business in January. Bill Elmore’s mother, then Christine Campbell, started working for owner Dana Ousler at age 16 and eventually bought the business when Ousler planned to retire.
For husband and wife team Bill and Becky Elmore, hearing fond memories about Ousler’s Sandwiches is a daily occurrence.
“We had someone come in the other day who said they had the sandwiches at their wedding, and now they’re celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and they wanted the sandwiches,” said Becky Elmore, adding they heard of another woman who specified in her funeral arrangements, “‘for the funeral reception, I want Ousler’s sandwiches.’ So it’s just every day. Every day there’s something sweet like that.”
Ousler’s first opened in Five Points South in 1915 and celebrated 102 years in business in January. Bill Elmore’s mother, then Christine Campbell, started working for owner Dana Ousler at age 16 and eventually bought the business when Ousler planned to retire.
To this day, they use her recipes for pimento cheese, egg salad, ham salad and their most popular item, chicken salad.
“We try things, and people tell us, ‘Don’t do that no more,’” Bill Elmore said, who helped run the store with his mother and sister, Jayne, before taking over. “Mother, she had been around a long time, so she had tried everything, and she said, ‘This is the way that turned out to be the best,’ so we just stay there.”
They also follow some of her advice, including: “Always give our customers a quality product at a reasonable price,” Becky Elmore said.
And: “If you make a mistake, don’t let it hinder you,” Bill Elmore said.
The decision to take over the shop after Jayne chose to retire and Christine Elmore got older came from a desire to continue her legacy, Bill and Becky Elmore said.
“We needed an income, and this is what we knew, so that’s why we came here to continue it on,” Becky Elmore said. “And also, Bill’s mother, when we were trying to decide what we needed to do, she said if we closed the business, she would consider herself not successful. And if there was ever a little lady in this whole world [who was successful], it was Mrs. Elmore.”
The shop moved from Five Points South to Avondale in 1971, and then to its location in Mountain Brook Village in 2005. When looking for a new location, the spot in Mountain Brook Village opened up and proved to be a perfect fit.
“It was honestly like God said, ‘bloop — right there,’” said LeAnn Elmore Wood, Bill and Becky’s daughter. The shop had the right coolers and prep space, and all that needed to be changed was the location of the counter, Wood said.
The location was also good for their customer base, Becky Elmore said.
“It’s such a sweet village. It’s fun to be here because it’s so friendly and family-like. We had so many customers from this area, and this is also centrally located, so it’s not hard for anyone within the area to find us,” she said.
“We had a sign when we first moved over here that said, ‘Ousler’s opens soon,’ and LeAnn was sitting there [inside] and a woman walked by and started clapping,” Bill Elmore said. “So we knew this was in the right place.”
Since moving to Mountain Brook, Ousler’s has seen an increase in foot traffic, with individuals stopping in to pick up a quick lunch, Bill Elmore said, and they have also seen continued support.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It’s just a great place. They look after us, and we look after them.”
“We know we have the support of the community,” Becky Elmore said.
Now in their 70s, Bill and Becky Elmore plan to pass the store to Wood. Besides, Bill Elmore said, they do not think closing up shop would go over well.
“We put a lot of years into this, and I’m sure we’d have an uprising if we [closed],” he said.
Wood works in the front of the store, greeting people and managing orders, and she jokes about hearing herself say the same things her parents used to. When her parents were in their 40s, around Wood’s age now, they would come home and say, “I don’t know how your grandmother can work us under the table at her age,” Wood said. Now, she comes home and says the same thing to her sons — her parents keep her busy and sometimes she wonders how they still can work her under the table.
“We’re looking to pass the torch soon,” Wood said. “I don’t want them to quit working, but I’d like for them to have some retirement time.”
Christine Elmore worked into her 90s, and remained “sharp as a tack,” Wood said. She credits her grandmother’s spirit and quick mind to the fact that she continued to work, and she would like to see her parents the same way in their 90s. And once she takes over, will Wood change anything?
“I would not change a thing. No. Oh, my gosh,” she said. “I don’t think the town of Mountain Brook would forgive me. I don’t think my parents would forgive me.”