About

Our Historygold-dash

John’s Grocery has been integral to the history of Iowa City since John & Erma Alberhasky bought the grocery business in 1948.  But the history of the building goes back a century further.  In fact, the State of Iowa itself is only two years older than 401 E.Market Street, which was built in 1848.  Since then the building has been a grocery store, an apartment building, a saloon, a barbershop, a fire station, office space, and even a factory for the Ernste Manufacturing Company.

No matter the variation, the building has always functioned as a service to the community.  We honor that history by continuing to provide Iowa City and surrounding communities with great products and service.  Click on the link below to see the Historic Timeline to get a better idea of the rich history of our store and our building.

John’s Grocery has been integral to the history of Iowa City since John Alberhasky bought the grocery business in 1948.  But the history of the building goes back a century further.  In fact, the State of Iowa itself is only two years older than 401 E.Market Street, which was built in 1848.  Since then the building has been a grocery store, an apartment building, a saloon, a barbershop, a fire station, office space, and even a factory for the Ernste Manufacturing Company.

No matter the variation, the building has always functioned as a service to the community.  We honor that history by continuing to provide Iowa City and surrounding communities with great products and service.  Click on the link below to see the Historic Timeline to get a better idea of the rich history of our store and our building.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…
1899 401 E. Market St. Georg Balluf Saloon.

1899 401 E. Market St. Georg Balluf Saloon.

Built in 1848 by Samuel Baker, the brick building on the southeast corner of Market and Gilbert Streets began its life as a grocery and has stayed that way ever since. Baker would go on to run the small frontier grocery for the next 40 years until his death in 1884.

The first major addition was built after Baker’s death, and in 1893 a man named Jacob Morh opened a saloon in the new part of the building. At that point the main downtown brewery district had blossomed around the grocery.

Even though three breweries ran lively businesses right down the street, the saloon was an agent of the Pabst Brewery of Milwaukee, prompting one of the Iowa City breweries to adopt the motto—“Erlanger, the beer that made Milwaukee jealous!”

Morh’s saloon is pictured above in 1899. Since state law prohibited any establishment that served liquor from providing their patrons with a place to sit, they figured if you were too drunk to stand, it was time to cut you off.

Over the next 22 years the saloon changed hands many times. The rear of the building was added after the turn of the century and used as a hose house for the Iowa City Fire Department and their one-horse fire engine. In 1915 the building saw yet another life as a barbershop. The upstairs would go on to house several businesses including a toilet cream factory, cigar factory, and dance hall.

Finally in 1928 the grocery moved out of the south portion of the building and into the main area. Twenty years later in 1948, a 30-year-old John Alberhasky took his place in the history of the storied brick building.

A Simple Handshake

Fresh out of the Navy and married with three children, Alberhasky was scraping by as a bartender at his brother’s bar, the Central Tap, right up the street from the grocery. When he was offered the business for $1,500, Alberhasky described it as “the luckiest day of my life.” With a simple handshake, John and his wife Erma plunged in, borrowing $4,000 to stock the shelves for opening day.

The store was an instant success, but unknown to them, the former owner owed sales tax on the property. If it hadn’t been for the help of a good friend and lawyer, they would have lost it all.

When Alberhasky was granted a beer license, business picked up even more. From then on the building has seen a constant progression of change and improvements. Eventually John bought the entire building, which included the original structure built in 1848. At the time the area served as a religious bookstore, but it would ironically become the beer room and its latest incarnation— the new 2005 wine room.

John and subsequent generations built three more additions to hold the burgeoning business: the current produce area and current beer room in 1968, the keg cooler and back room in 1973, and most recently, the new walk-in beer cooler in 2005.

A Family Affair

John’s wife Erma started their famous deli shortly after opening, her reasoning being, “I couldn’t stand seeing all of the junior high kids eating penny candy for lunch, so I started making nickel ham-salad sandwiches and my famous potato salad.”

Later in 1956, John’s earned its infamous nickname when a group of boys stole an entire stack of freshly delivered Playboys and passed them out to their classmates. The principal, not knowing the entire story of why his school was inundated with these magazines, dubbed the store “Dirty John’s.”

Being a family business, John’s seven children grew up in the store. Starting the day they could see over the front counter, the children worked alongside the rest of the Alberhasky family.

Throughout the years of changes, the first, second, and now third generation of Alberhaskys have given their heart to the little corner grocery to ensure its place in Iowa City’s rich history.

2010 - In Heaven, There Is NOW Beer!

After 69 years of Marriage, John Alberhasky (9/18/1918-10/14/2010) and his wife Erma (8/1/1922-11/10/2010) pass away a mere 27 days apart. Joined in Heaven, the staple song of the Hawks will no longer be the same.

2007 - John's Generations Wins Again

John’s Generations White Ale wins a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.

2005 - Wallionian & Flanders Trade Federation Belgian Beer Experience

John’s Grocery is the only retailer invited to Kendall College in Chicago for this once in a lifetime beer show. Every Belgian beer imported into the United States is on display, along with Belgian cheese and glassware brought by the beer experts at John’s. A new beer room, beer cooler, and current wine room were also built the same year.

2004 - Best Retailer & Brewnost

John’s Grocery is named “Best Retailer” by All About Beer Magazine. The first annual Brewnost is held at the Czech Museum in Cedar Rapids.

2003 - Moving & Ale Award

Brew Fest moves to Old Chicago and the United States Beer Tasting Championship named John’s Generations White Ale “Best in the Midwest” in the Belgian/French Specialty Ale category.

1999 - Doug & Mike’s Drunken European Adventure

Third Generation grandsons Doug and Mike Alberhasky (along with Doug’s wife Sabrina), embark on a once in a lifetime invasion of the old world. Cataloging over 120 beers in a 16-day tour of England, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, the thirsty beer travelers made many contacts with brewers that last to this day.

1998 - 50th Anniversary

John’s Grocery turns 50-years-old and goes online with johnsgrocery.com. In celebration of the milestone we created a White Ale with our friends at Stone City Brewing in Solon. John’s Generations White Ale is born.

1996 - Brew Fest

The first annual Brew Fest is held at the Highlander.

1986 - Selling Some Hooch

The State of Iowa Liquor Stores go out of business, and John’s starts selling hard Liquor.

1985 - Wine Room

The wine room is built.

1973 - Keg Walk-in

A keg cooler addition is built onto the store.

1968 - Third Addition

After John and Erma’s oldest son Bill gets out of the Navy, the current day produce and beer room area is built.

1959 - More Space

In an attempt to gain more space, John and Erma’s four sons (Bill, Jerry, Tim & Ron) break through a basement wall and hand dig under the original 1848 section of the building to create a new store room.

1956 - Dirty John's

After an escapade involving some young lads and some stolen Playboy magazines, the store is given the nickname “Dirty John’s.”

1948 - John's Grocery

John Alberhasky buys the grocery store and renames it “John’s Grocery.”

1926 - Valentine's

Mr. Dennis Valentine, an experienced grocer, announces he will open a grocery at 401 East Market Street on April 1st. The store becomes known as Valentine’s Grocery, and offers a line of staple groceries, green vegetables and fresh meats. His many friends forecast unusual success for the new store.

1919 - Ernste Manufacturing

The Ernste Manufacturing Company moves into the space above and makes what they called “toilet cream.”

1916 - Prohibition

A sad day for Iowa beer lovers.

1915 - Barber Shop

A barber shop opens in the building.

1901 - 2nd Addition

The back half of the main building is added on to the Saloon.

1893 - Saloon

Jacob Morh buys the building and opens a saloon in the first floor and rents the second floor out as apartments. His saloon was the place in Iowa City to get beer from Milwaukee’s Pabst Brewery.

1891 - Baker Opera House

The second floor was used as an office space for the “Baker Opera House.”

1884 - Iowa City Beer Riots

Prompted by an attempt to stop the manufacture and sale of beer in Iowa City, the “German Mafia” tarred and feathered the Johnson County Justice. Don’t mess with thirsty Iowa City beer lovers…

1884 - Baker Dies

Samuel Baker dies in 1884 and the building is used for various functions.

1883 - 1st Addition

401 E Market Street addition is built in the Italianate style. The main floor of the building houses Alert Hose Company #1 until 1893. The second floor is home to many meeting halls, including Baker’s Hall, Mohr’s Hall and the German Aid Society.

1848 - Frontier Construction

Samuel Baker constructs a building at 126 N. Gilbert Streets in Iowa City. He starts a grocery store in the new building to provide the new, up and coming community of Iowa City with produce, beer, and dry goods. He would live above the store for nearly 40 years.

Our Staffgold-dash

William Alberhasky

Owner

The second oldest of John and Erma’s seven kids, Bill started working in the store as soon as he could see over the counter. At age 10 he began working regularly, and besides his time at St. Amboise College and the US Navy, he’s been here ever since. From cutting meat to ordering everything in the store, Bill is the driving force of the business.

Married to his wife Sheila since 1968, Bill has three kids who have all been involved in the business— Doug, Mike and Deb. In a time where family businesses rarely survive the generational change, Bill’s dedication, hard work and leadership have kept John’s a fixture in Iowa City.

His favorite wine is a 1977 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port.

Doug Alberhasky

Store Manager

The oldest of all of the Iowa City grandchildren, Doug followed in his father’s footsteps, starting his career at the ripe age of six. After graduating from City High in ’87, Doug began working full-time, and started managing the store after his sophomore year at the University of Iowa. He later went on to earn a degree in Food Store Management from Kirkwood in ’97.

Doug is married to his wife Sabrina, and has two kids, JD and Jessica, who have been the stars of the John’s Grocery TV commercials since they were born. A fixture in the Iowa City area, Doug has been involved with many community organizations, including Northside Oktoberfest & Iowa City Brewfest, Optimist Club, Horace Mann Elementary PTO, Boy Scouts, Little Hawk Baseball Club, and Junior Achievement to name a few.

His favorite beer is Westvleteren 12.

Doug Alberhasky

Store Manager

The oldest of all of the Iowa City grandchildren, Doug followed in his father’s footsteps, starting his career at the ripe age of six. After graduating from City High in ’87, Doug began working full-time, and started managing the store after his sophomore year at the University of Iowa. He later went on to earn a degree in Food Store Management from Kirkwood in ’97.

Doug is married to his wife Sabrina, and has two kids, JD and Jessica, who have been the stars of the John’s Grocery TV commercials since they were born. A fixture in the Iowa City area, Doug has been involved with many community organizations, including Northside Oktoberfest & Iowa City Brewfest, Optimist Club, Horace Mann Elementary PTO, Boy Scouts, Little Hawk Baseball Club, and Junior Achievement to name a few.

His favorite beer is Westvleteren 12.

Develin Matthews

General Manager & Liquor Manager

Develin started his time at John’s Grocery in 2003, moving quickly through the ranks in each department. Learning about the history and cultural importance of wine, beer, and spirits awakened a need for further understanding and in 2007, Develin moved to Chicago to attend culinary school.

In Chicago Develin worked for the prestigious Phil Stefani Signature Events. Here he catered some of the city’s largest and most elegant events, including the Air and Water Show, events for the Democratic Party, political inaugurations, the Chicago Cultural Center and many others.

After five years in the fine dining industry, the Alberhasky family invited Develin back to the store in 2012, and in 2014 he assumed the role of General Manager. Since then the Alberhasky family and the amazing staff at John’s have been working with Develin to restore the 1848 built building and usher John’s into another generation of prosperity.

His favorite spirit is Elijah Craig 18 year bourbon.

Tim Fischer

HR & Produce Manager

Originally from Janesville, WI, Tim came to Iowa City in ’95, where he earned his Entrepreneurial Certificate from the University of Iowa. He has 22 years in the restaurant industry and has been a Northside business owner for 12 years. Tim was the co-founder for Northside Oktoberfest, and has worked at John’s for the past five years. Tim is married to his beautiful wife Jen, and has two wonderful daughters, Eleanor and Beatrice.

His favorite beer is Brassarie Dupont Foret.

Tim Fischer

HR & Produce Manager

Originally from Janesville, WI, Tim came to Iowa City in ’95, where he earned his Entrepreneurial Certificate from the University of Iowa. He has 22 years in the restaurant industry and has been a Northside business owner for 12 years. Tim was the co-founder for Northside Oktoberfest, and has worked at John’s for the past five years. Tim is married to his beautiful wife Jen, and has two wonderful daughters, Eleanor and Beatrice.

His favorite beer is Brassarie Dupont Foret.

Joe Ragona

Wine Manager

Joe moved to Iowa City from Dubuque in 2000 to attend the University of Iowa. Along the way, his love of craft beer grew and landed him a job at John’s in 2004. He managed the beer department until 2009, when he left to work for Glazer’s Distributors.

During this time, Joe developed a love of wine, selling to the finest restaurants and retailers in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area. He earned his certification as Specialist of Wine from the Society of Wine Educators in 2012, and after serving as District Manager, he was invited back to John’s to run the Wine Room.

In his time off, Joe loves cooking for his wife and two daughters, which allows him to explore which wines work best with food, and what to stock in the store.

His favorite wine is Ridge Monte Bello, any vintage.

Chris Moore

Beer Manager

Beer lover and Nebraska native Chris began working at John’s Grocery in 2013, where he was promoted to the coveted Beer Room Manager position in 2014.

As an avid beer trader, Chris loves talking about rare finds and new brews. He also enjoys managing the store’s Twitter and Instagram accounts (follow him @JohnsGrocery).

His favorite beer is Big Grove Brewery Arms Race Pale Ale.

Chris Moore

Beer Manager

Beer lover and Nebraska native Chris began working at John’s Grocery in 2013, where he was promoted to the coveted Beer Room Manager position in 2014.

As an avid beer trader, Chris loves talking about rare finds and new brews. He also enjoys managing the store’s Twitter and Instagram accounts (follow him @JohnsGrocery).

His favorite beer is Big Grove Brewery Arms Race Pale Ale.

Mae Peterson

Deli Manager

An Iowa City native, Mae has been shopping at John’s Grocery since she was only knee-high. After graduating from the University of Iowa in 2014, she began working in the kitchen where she learned to make Erma’s famous recipes by heart.

Mae takes pride in perfecting her techniques and presentation skills. Outside of work she enjoys a well-made cocktail.

Her favorite drink is the Sazerac.

Roberta Schmidt

Grocery Manager

Roberta was born and raised in Iowa City,  she received her Bachelor degree in English from Coe College in 2008. She has many years experience in the grocery business and is currently apprenticing under Bill to transition into his position when he retires.

Her favorite drink is Disaronno on the rocks.

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Roberta Schmidt

Grocery Manager

Roberta was born and raised in Iowa City,  she received her Bachelor degree in English from Coe College in 2008. She has many years experience in the grocery business and is currently apprenticing under Bill to transition into his position when he retires.

Her favorite drink is Disaronno on the rocks.

James Rauch

Soft Beverage Manager

Hailing from Sioux City, James has worked at John’s since 2007. Besides working in the Beer and Wine Rooms, James has done everything else in the store and has recently taken on the role of Soft Beverage Manager. His biggest accomplishment to date is the reset of the entire soft drink department in 2015.

His favorite soda is Millstream Root Beer.

Clifford (Andy) Davis

Accounting Manager

Andy’s love of craft beer led him to John’s Grocery in 2007. After working as the Beer Room Manager for two years, he took over the role of Shipping Manager in 2010 and was promoted to Accounting Manager in 2014. Throughout his time at John’s, Andy has developed an extensive knowledge of beer and spirits that grows to this day.

Andy is married to his wife and travel companion Kelly, who joins him on their frequent road trips.

His favorite spirit is Green Chartreuse.

Clifford (Andy) Davis

Accounting Manager

Andy’s love of craft beer led him to John’s Grocery in 2007. After working as the Beer Room Manager for two years, he took over the role of Shipping Manager in 2010 and was promoted to Accounting Manager in 2014. Throughout his time at John’s, Andy has developed an extensive knowledge of beer and spirits that grows to this day.

Andy is married to his wife and travel companion Kelly, who joins him on their frequent road trips.

His favorite spirit is Green Chartreuse.

Mike Alberhasky

IT Manager

As one of John’s grandchildren, Mike’s first time working at John’s Grocery was when he was in preschool. He followed his father around with a feather duster to dust the shelves he could reach. He has now graduated to dusting out computers and caring for the gremlins that live in the building’s network.

His favorite beer is Toppling Goliath’s PseduoSue.