Oklahoma Table: Lovera's Italian Market is heaven in the foodie era

The Food Dude shares the story of the store at the heart of Oklahoma's No. 1 town for foodies: Lovera's Italian Market in Krebs.
by Dave Cathey Published: October 10, 2012

So Martha got into the grocery business.

When Mike Lovera returned from World War II, he learned the grocery business from his mother and then took it over, opening Mike's Meat Market and Grocery in 1946 in a 36-year-old, two-story rock building where he and his wife, Madeline, could work and raise a family together under one roof.

Mike and Madeline built a serious reputation for quality products that, with the fame Krebs built thanks to its strong Italian heritage, continued for four decades.

But when Mike died unexpectedly in 1987, his sons came to the rescue of their mother and the family business which had since become known as Lovera's.

“My brother Mike and I came home to try to keep the thing going,” Sam said. “I had a degree in economics from the University of California, so everything I did was from a business perspective.”

Lovera's today and tomorrow

When Walmart began expanding into Pittsburg County, Sam decided to take the traditions of the market and build them into a brand.

“We'd always made cheese and sausage at the store,” Sam said. “But it was always just enough for the store. It was always really good, so I decided to start a mail-order business.”

Before Sam built additions next to the store to expand sausage and cheese operations, he made the most important decision of all: He kept the family recipes.

“We use fresh garlic in our sausage,” Sam said. “People compromise on ingredients all the time, but then you end up with a product that tastes just like everybody else's.”

With the family recipes in play, Sam built the small sausage and cheese factories in 1994 and soon every independent grocer worth its salt started carrying Lovera's sausage and cheeses.

Sam also added to his inventory.

“A lot of places scrimp on inventory,” Sam said. “But I think you've gotta give people lots to choose from. I save money in different places so I can make sure to offer the best.”

To do that, Sam goes on buying tours of Italy and Sicily pretty much every year. So, when food became the next cool new thing in era of eCommerce, Lovera's was well-positioned to prosper.

But there is no substitute for a trip to Krebs. Swing the front door open, and you'll swear what you see should be in black-and-white — a small Italian grocery store impervious to time. In this town of about 2,000 you can enjoy an espresso as you browse some of the world's finest imported Italian oils, vinegars, pestos, giardinieras, olives, pastas, sweets and coffee. You can sample the cheese and sausage as well as Lovera's private-label dressings, sauces and condiments.

You can take home a jar of Lovera's marinara, which bears Madeline's picture since she's the one who created the recipe.

“I'm in this business 'cause when I grew up, we lived upstairs over the store, and it was just what we did,” Sam said “In a business like this, you've got to have kids willing to carry on the tradition. Shawn, here, will probably be the one.”

Fresh Caciocavera hangs over the back counter where fresh meat and deli reside. You can order a muffuletta or custom sandwich to go. Along with steaks, chops and chicken, Lovera's carries all the Italian standards: pancetta, prosciutto, capicola, salami, bologna and mortadella.

You'll also find a wider selection of Lovera's line of sausages. They have a smoked, ready-to-eat version of the Italian sausage, a brilliant Sicilian sausage and a raw kielbasa I'm waiting to smoke for the holidays. They also have a chorizo I'm anxious to try. Did I mention the house-made goat cheeses? And then there's the selection of meats and cheeses from around the world not made in house.

If heaven is a place drawn from your heart, then meat-and-cheese lovers who say their prayers and do unto others as they'd have done unto them, will doubtlessly find habitation in the hereafter where all the gold-paved roads lead to Lovera's.

by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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