LINCOLN — Sometimes, opportunity knocks in the most unexpected ways.
Consider the case of George Paul Vinegar, a company located in a hay-bale structure in tiny Cody, Nebraska, that has won national kudos for producing small batches of gourmet vinegars the old-fashioned way, by hand.
The vinegar is so good that a 3.37-ounce bottle of the company’s unfiltered Emilia balsamic vinegar sells for $45.
Restaurants and homemade gourmets love it for cooking, for dipping and for salad dressings.
But a couple of years back, an odd request came from a hair-care company based in Minneapolis: Send us a sample of your apple cider vinegar.
George Johnson, a retired businessman who decided to make wine, then vinegar, in the Sand Hills town of 154 people, said he didn’t give it much thought, until the company kept calling back for more vinegar.
Now, the hair-care company dpHUE is his company’s biggest customer by far. He’s shipping vinegar — what he calls his “accidental business” — by the 55-gallon barrel instead of by palm-sized bottles. And Johnson’s mostly one-man operation has added employees and may need to add a warehouse for another accidental success story.
“It’s kind of getting out of hand, really fast,” said the 66-year-old. “I had no intention of doing something like this at my age, but there’s no turning back, in part because it’s too much fun.”
Last year, the story of Johnson’s super-fragrant vinegar-turned-hair rinse was told in the pages of Marie Claire, a New York City-based fashion magazine. That was after he learned that the owner of the hair-care company wasn’t just a nice lady from Minnesota, but the co-owner of the Minnesota Twins baseball team.
Donna Pohlad’s pedigree didn’t register with Johnson until he was invited to a Twins game last year after a vinegar delivery run. Dressed in his work duds, Johnson was ushered into a skybox he described as bigger than his house in Cody and featuring a smorgasbord of gourmet appetizers. That’s when Pohlad confessed that she wasn’t just a fan of the Twins, but a co-owner. Her family is among the wealthiest in the country.
“She loved it that I was a country boy and I’d never Googled her (on the Internet),” Johnson said. “We’ve become real good pals.”
The ACV (apple cider vinegar) hair rinse is now one of the best-selling products of dpHUE, and is sold in over 1,000 cosmetic stores across the U.S. The success has spawned four other products that use Johnson’s vinegar, which is made from apples grown at Arbor Day Farms in Nebraska City.
Pohlad said that of all the vinegars tested by her company, the Nebraska vinegar had the best color, flavor and apple fragrance. She said she appreciated that Johnson had a family business (his daughter Emilia is the company “taster” and printer of its labels) like her own, and that his vinegar was handcrafted in an ages-old process, and not mass-produced in a couple of days.
“I really care a lot about what goes into our products,” Pohlad said. “I didn’t realize what an art it is to create vinegar until I found George.”
Johnson, by the way, said he’s now a faithful user of the vinegar hair rinse, which is billed as a healthier alternative for shampoo that leaves your hair soft, smooth and shiny.
His vinegar has other fans, including actress Jennifer Aniston and singer Miley Cyrus.
￼103-year-old country schoolhouse will be moved into Neligh
An update from a past column:
In Neligh, Nebraska, Gloria Christiansen is realizing her dream of saving an old country schoolhouse from demolition.
On Monday, crews from Williams Midwest House Movers of Hastings will load up the 24-by-42-foot wooden structure for the 10-mile trip into Neligh the next day. A drone-mounted camera will document the ride of the 103-year-old structure to a complex of historic structures in the northeast Nebraska farm town.
Back in October, it didn’t appear certain that the District 70 school, known as the Midland School, would be saved. But these old, one-room schools stir passions in people, and grants and donations poured in (though about $40,000 still needs to be raised).
One donor included a sentimental, nine-page poem about a country school, Christiansen said. Another, a western Nebraska rancher, told of how he converted an old school into a home.
One other contributor was the mother of Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler. Dorothy Beutler, who lives in Omaha, explained that her late husband, Jack, was a product of a country school, the Yale School, near Dawson, in the extreme southeast corner of Nebraska. She also related that her son, the mayor, also attended a school called Yale, Yale University in Connecticut.
A spokesman for Mayor Beutler added that his son, Sam, and his daughter, Erica, were also proud Yale U. graduates.
￼Nebraska will host Country School Association conference
One reminder: Nebraska will host the annual conference of Country School Association of America on June 17-20. The event, titled “Free People, Free Land, Free Schools,” will be held at the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice.