Wilmette, Community

‘If not now, when?’: 87-year-old Wilmette resident expands nut and snack business to Highland Park storefront

Plenty of people went a little nutty as the outbreak of COVID-19 drove them homebound. A Wilmette 87-year-old took that to a new level.

Not only did Sally Schoch expand her snack business, but also she found a way to coax everyone out of the house: her homemade — and locally renowned — nuts and other snacks.

Along with her daughter, Kari Guhl, Schoch is the co-owner of Sally’s Nuts, an online store that just this year opened a brick-and-mortar location in Highland Park. 

The expansion means Schoch’s goodies are even more accessible to snack lovers, quite the deviation from just a few years ago. 

Schoch’s famous nuts were once a holiday-only treat made exclusively for family and loved ones. Then, on a spring day in 2017, a friend asked Schoch if she would make a batch of nuts for a special occasion.

Schoch refused.

“I was standing there in the conversation also, and Sal looked at her and said, ‘No, I won’t,’” Guhl said. “And [Sally’s friend] looked at her and said, ‘You know Sal, you really should start a business so I don’t have to beg you for these nuts.’”

“But then she tried to make them herself,” Schoch said with a chuckle.

Sally’s Nuts cannot be replicated by even the best homebaker, according to Schoch. So Guhl finally said, “Enough is enough,” and gifted the www.sallysnuts.com domain to Schoch for Mother’s Day in 2017.

Sally’s Nuts have been a quiet, local favorite until Sally Schoch opened a business with her daughter.

Over that summer, the two developed the brand and digital store. Come autumn, Schoch and Guhl “combined their Christmas card lists,” sent samples and let the world know Sally’s Nuts were finally available for purchase anytime, anywhere.

“I don’t think we planned ahead more than three days,” Schoch said.

From that point on, the two “took a leap of faith,” according to Schoch, and worked together to make, pack, sell and distribute Sally’s Nuts from home until the business grew too big.

“It was really cool because I was the one packaging it all,” Guhl said. “I would send it to Sarah Bess, and then Sarah Bess would send it to somebody in Florida, and then that person would order and send it to New Jersey, and New Jersey would send it to Montana and so on.”

By the end of the Christmas season, Sally’s Nuts traveled across the nation and reached nearly 30 U.S. states by word of mouth alone.

Then, Schoch and Guhl pitched the product to their local grocery store, Sunset Foods. Now, Sally’s Nuts are sold at all five Sunset Foods locations, two Grand Food Center locations and one Binny’s Beverage Depot.

So for anyone reading this, you have to believe in your dream. You have to believe in yourself because that’s the only thing that’s going to work.” Sally Schoch, of Wilmette, owner of Sally’s Nuts

It’s become the family business: Schoch is the artist, Guhl is the business woman, Guhl’s brother is the chef, and Guhl’s sons are the young marketing wizards and packagers.

This “labor of love” was just as much labor as love. Guhl fronted the dollars to open the shop at 481 Roger Williams Ave. in Highland Park in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, which was a decision that was both applauded and criticized, according to Guhl.

“It was money I didn’t think that I had,” Guhl said. “I think that the reality of all small businesses is that necessity is the mother of all drivers. We need this to be successful because we’ve put our own money into it. You really do put heart and soul and your own financial wherewithal into it.

“So for anyone reading this, you have to believe in your dream. You have to believe in yourself because that’s the only thing that’s going to work.”

Schoch said she wishes she would have opened Sally’s Nuts 50 years ago. But at that time, she was just as much a creative life force as she is now.

Schoch graduated with a master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute and became a professional artist, known for her abstract floral paintings. She met her late husband, Dick, at a night class at the Institute, and they married in 1962 and had their four children.

Schoch is not one to go on about herself. To get to know Sally, look near her — at her nuts, both sweet and salty; at her paintings, thoughtful and undefined; at her daughter, beaming and proud.

“Who am I? I’m just an ordinary person moving one step at a time,” Schoch said. “I get a lot of pleasure in a lot of simple things.”

Guhl says otherwise.

“She is very humble and self-deprecating, which is charming, but she needs an advocate to really tell you her life story and that what she’s accomplished is incredibly impressive,” Guhl said.

This summer, Sally’s Nuts is offering her traditional menu in addition to ice cream sundaes, charcuterie and cheese boards customized for trips to Ravinia Festival, plus wine and beer.

And this is not the finish line for Schoch. She told The Record that eventually she wants to give a percentage of Sally’s Nuts funds to children and people in need, a cause that Schoch has always cared about.

“I’ve been so blessed,” Schoch said. “This is the right thing to do. When you’re successful, spread it around. Help those who need help.”

The Highland Park shop opened earlier this year and sells Sally’s Nuts and a number of other snacks and treats.

Sally’s Nuts are available online at www.sallysnuts.com and in person Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 481 Roger Williams Ave. in Highland Park. 

For more information, call the shop at 847-748-8947 or email info@sallysnuts.com.

Alayne Trinko

Alayne Trinko is an editorial intern who assists the editor-in-chief in reporting hyperlocal news, developing engaging multimedia, and building community trust. Alayne was a staff writer and Focus section editor for The DePaulia, DePaul University’s student-run newspaper. Alayne will be a junior studying journalism this fall and hopes to study abroad to conduct social justice reporting on women’s reproductive health issues in Africa or India in summer 2022. Follow her on Twitter @AlayneTrinko.

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