Staying Power

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Husband and wife Michael and Marilyn Kirtley opened their Low Carb Central store in Hales Corners during the height of the low-carbohydrate diet craze last year. Although the diet does not get as much attention as before, Low Carb Central’s customers are still as loyal as ever, the Kirtleys say.

"As far as we are concerned, the media interest in the diet died, but people who have done it know it works and are here to stay," Marilyn said.

The store’s second quarter sales this year increased by 11 percent from the first quarter, and third quarter earnings increased 10 percent from the second quarter, Michael said. He declined to disclose the store’s revenues.

Low Carb Central, located at 10940 W. Forest Home Ave., opened its doors in July 2004 and is hoping to open a second location, Marilyn said. The Low Carb Central mailing list reaches 360 people per month and continues to increase in number.

The specialty food store carries snacks, drinks, cookies, bake mixes, ready-to-eat frozen desserts, candy, cereals, baking ingredients including almond flour and sweeteners, crackers, bagels and breads that are all low in carbohydrates.

Marilyn and Michael educate customers by offering books about low-carb living and by teaching individuals about reading labels and knowing their options, Marilyn said.

When the low-carb craze has subsided in the media, Atkins Nutritionals Inc. filed for bankruptcy in July, and many stores specializing in low-carbohydrate products on the West Coast closed, Michael said.

However, people who have changed their lifestyle and have seen success with a low-carbohydrate diet have not quit, he said.

"Our biggest challenge is companies closing or distributors dropping products," Michael said. "We have to be very creative, and low-carb people in general are innovative. They know what they want and they go after it."

Michael, who runs the store Marilyn is at her full-time job at the City of Milwaukee health department, talks regularly to about 150 manufacturers to order products.

Low Carb Central tries to order or find products that customers have tried and say they want to purchase in the store, Michael said.

Some foods, including low-carb cookies, crackers, breads and baking items are harder to find now that companies are not making a large profit off of producing them, Michael said.

Customers who frequent the store are not only individuals following Atkins, Protein Power or other low carbohydrate diets. About 30 percent of the customers are diabetic, and others are vegan, have food allergies or are on low sugar diets, Marilyn said.

Marilyn and Michael have both seen success with low-carbohydrate diets themselves. They have been "low-carbing it" since 2000. Marilyn said she lost 40 pounds following her switch to the new lifestyle. Michael started the diet to support his wife, and his high cholesterol level decreased by 100 points after 18 weeks, he said.

They thought of starting their own business when Marilyn continually met people in online chat rooms that were searching for foods that were low in carbohydrates, Marilyn said.

About 80 percent of low-carb stores in the country have closed since the popularity of the low-carb diet decreased, Michael said. But many of the stores closed because they only opened to take advantage of the frenzy and were not making easy money after a while, he said. "We are not trying to get rich," Michael said. "We are just trying to make a living."

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