By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 06, 2005 at 5:30 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1}Ken Koppa started working in his family's grocery store, Koppa's Farwell Foods, when he was just 10 years old. Back then, to keep things entertaining, he and his three brothers and sister made a lot of jokes.

It's now 23 years later, and the signature "Koppa humor" is visible throughout the store. Funny little handwritten signs poke fun at products -- gummy bears are advertised as "gummy Adams grizzlies," the Fulbeli Deli features a sandwich named for Mrs. Koppa's maiden name ("The Stralkowski") and words displayed on the walls are intentionally misspelled, like "dairy" -- spelled "diary" -- and "frozen food" - spelled "frezon food."

"In everything we do, we try to throw in some humor," says Koppa, 33, who officially purchased the store, located at 1940 N. Farwell Ave., with Peter Schmidt at the end of 2003.

The two friends bought the business from Vern Koppa, Ken's dad, also known as "The Master Grocer." Vern owned the store for 22 years, and before that, an uncle owned it, so when his pop announced his decision to retire, Ken knew it was up to him to keep the family business alive.

"They (my brothers and sister) all left me here," jokes Koppa, who received a degree in architecture from UWM and worked in Chicago as a furniture builder.

Koppa (pronounced with a short "o" and rhymes with "papa") has big plans for his little store in 2005. Starting in February, he will launch the "Lucky Shopper" game. Employees will hand out free raffle tickets, and every Sunday they will draw a few names, giving away cash prizes as well as interesting thrift store finds.

Koppa says he also plans to build a Web site, offer more organic food items (they currently have a decent selection of fresh and frozen organics), buy a new frozen food case and hopefully rearrange the space or expand so Fulbeli diners can eat their "Saturn sandwiches" or nummy pre-made wraps on site.

"We want to make it like the old Oriental Pharmacy lunch counter. The East Side needs something like that to keep its character," says Koppa, who is married and has a 7-month-old son.

{image2}Despite the new ownership, Koppa's mission remains to be an affordable, friendly neighborhood grocery store with a lot of variety. The quirky mart offers the normal grocery items, plus a great selection of micro beers (as well as cheap cases of returnables), wine, incense, organic food, cool T-shirts (designed by Ken) and lots of delectable sandwiches, salads and wraps at the Fulbeli Deli.

It's also one of the last grocers in the city to make deliveries. For $6, Koppa's will deliver groceries. They also drop off sandwiches at Downtown and East Side businesses during the lunch hour.

Over the years, many local musicians gigged under the big deer head, and Sigmund Snopek still performs regularly. Koppa says that music -- both live and recorded -- is one of the many things that separates Koppa's from larger chain grocery stores.

"I don't want to rip on anyone, but we play way better music than most grocery stores," he says. "Classic jazz, old country like Hank Williams, a lot of indie-rock type bands. You can't beat it."

But when it comes to shoplifting or check bouncing, Koppa finds no humor in the situation. Offenders are subject to public humiliation via nasty notes on neon paper posted somewhere very visible.

It's been called "The Funkadelicasy," "The Modern Polish Grocer" and "The Superelectric Grocery Store," but their classic bumper stickers say it best: "Koppa's feeds the planet."

Yep, one Milwaukeean at a time.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.