Fifty years ago, one man decided to combine his skills, means and determination in order to serve his community.
Drafted at the age of 24 to serve in the Korean War, Gerald Ehst returned and knew one thing: that he wanted to make cabinets. However, he had no money so he reached out to the local bank for assistance.
On April 1, 1963, Gerald Ehst opened Ehst Custom Kitchens in Boyertown—and there was no fooling anyone—Ehst meant business.
For the first five years, the business was located at Fourth and Chestnut Streets in Boyertown for, Ehst remembers the low cost of rent and the one kitchen that was on display at the time.
The entrepreneur eventually went looking for a new building. In 1968, Ehst bought the five acres of land where Ehst Custom Kitchens can be found today—on Sweinhart Road off of Route 100.
According to Ehst, due to the fact that he does not a son, he decided to bring of his employees into the business. “I thought it was a good idea to get them into the business so no one else would take them,” said Ehst. “Then I started the corporation.”
“This is a good spot here. When this land was bought, I was the first one here and when I built all this, I went through the state to do it right,” said Ehst, stating how he built the first section and then added to it. “You can’t do it your way; you have to follow regulations. I’m not sorry I did it; I didn’t expect this though. It developed,” said Ehst. “I’m pretty excited and lucky to have lived at that time.”
Ehst mentioned that he needed that amount of land in order to do work and to provide a noise barrier.
“We’re probably busier now than we have ever been,” said Ehst, referring to work with contractors and remodeling projects. “Dealing with people and making them happy--that’s what it’s all about. When I started I always used real wood, and still do. We don’t mess around.”
Cherry, maple, oak and hickory are among the woods used. According to Ehst, Cherry wood is his favorite.
Ehst and his employees recently took a trip to Lancaster for a dinner and a show to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.
Gerald Ehst was born and raised on a farm in Gabelsville, and lived in Bechtelsville for 20 years with his late wife. He went to Boyertown High School from 1941 to 1944. During that time, he participated in workshop where he learned what to do with lumber, from sanding to building. He also apprenticed for several years to further develop his skills.
“I try to stay active in the area so I stay out of trouble,” said Ehst, recalling his participation in such things as the Lions Club and St. John’s Lutheran Church. He also served as a district governor for Berks and Chester Counties and as president of the Boyertown Ambulance board for 5 years. “You need protection for people in an old town,” said Ehst, in reference to Boyertown Emergency Services. “As you get older, you have to step back a little bit.”
Most recently, Ehst has moved into Frederick Living where he plans to spend the rest of his life. He will celebrate his 87th birthday this month.
While he still stays involved in day to day operations at Ehst Custom Kitchens, he doesn’t get his hands dirty anymore. “I’ve had all the experience of labor and design. I’m trying to cut back. I was a farm boy, it’s a good way to live—on a farm. Now I get up and go to work at Ehst Kitchens. How could I not like it?”