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A rollercoaster of a year

Eden Meat Market sets up shop in temporary location after a fire, plans to rebuild

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February 9, 2023

EDEN – Jeff Duehring, co-owner and retail manager of Eden Meat Market, said 2022 was filled with high highs and low lows.

“We won at the Wisconsin State Fair, grand champion for our hot sticks, and then also won a couple of first place ribbons for our ring bologna and beef sticks, so that was exciting,” he said.

Eden Meat Market also took home Grand Champion and Champion awards from the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors for its apple cinnamon baby brats and ring bologna, respectively, in 2022.

Then, Duehring said, the unthinkable happened.

“Nov. 3 is when the fire happened,” he said.

Duehring said grease from bacon being smoked in the market’s old-fashioned smokers caught the walls of the smokehouse on fire, which became uncontrollable.

He said employees attempted to extinguish the fire but were unsuccessful.  

Though the fire was contained to the market’s sausage kitchen, Duehring said smoke and water damage reached the remaining parts of the building.

“We had a strong northbound wind the day of the fire,” he said. “Our sausage kitchen is on the south side of the building and there are doors opening to the outdoor environment, and that wind took all that smoke and went through the entire building.”

Duehring said in the weeks following, it didn’t take the family long to decide it would rebuild.

“I can’t imagine Eden without a meat market,” he said. “There was no doubt in my mind we were going to rebuild. We’ve got a good thing going for us here. People love our products, and they’re so sad to hear about the situation.”

In the meantime
Duehring said the first step toward rebuilding was figuring out a way to continue business in the meantime.

“All of the products we had in our gas stations – it was like how toilet paper was during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “People were grabbing more bacon than they probably should have, and more sausage items, too, because they knew it was going to be a while before we were back up and running. It was flattering to see all the products sell quickly, but in a couple of days time, our shelves were quite bare.”

Duehring said they knew they needed to figure out a plan to continue making products while they waited for the rebuild to happen.

“We own a couple of restaurants, one of which is in northeast Fond du Lac,” he said. “That particular restaurant was temporarily closed, because when COVID hit, we had a hard time finding help, and it didn’t make sense for us to stay open.”

A bacon grease fire in Eden Meat Market’s smoker caused fire, smoke and water damage throughout the building. Submitted Photo

Though the restaurant itself was closed, Duehring said they continued to utilize the Fond du Lac restaurant’s commercial kitchen to supply hot and cold sandwiches and salads to its adjacent gas station.

After the fire, Duehring said the space provided them with a temporary solution to its meat market operations.

“We were able to talk with our State of Wisconsin meat inspectors and get the go ahead to convert part of that commercial kitchen into a cutting room,” he said. “We’ve got the ability to cut boneless steaks – we don’t have a bandsaw, so we can do bone-in steaks, but we can grind meat, we can make patties.”

Duehring said they were able to purchase a smaller stuffer, so they can now make their brats and breakfast links.

“We also got a vacuum-sealing machine so we can package all those items, and then display them as best we can in our gas stations,” he said. 

Duehring said it isn’t even close to what they could display at the meat market, but it’s something.

“We’re telling everybody we can, to call for customer orders,” he said. “That’s where we’re struggling the most right now. We have product – it’s just trying to relay that information to the public to call and we can set up a location for pickup.”

Duehring said they do have some limitations.

“We can’t smoke anything right now,” he said. “So, our summer sausage, our award-winning snack sticks we just won that award for, and bacon and hams – we can’t make right now. We’ve had to adjust. We’ve had to plan ahead a little bit better – who’s using the ovens at the restaurant and making space for an additional slicer and space for assembling orders and everything else.”

Duehring said the holiday season was a real test for the temporary operation.

“Christmas is a busy time for any kind in any retail establishment,” he said. “We were able to handle it well, I thought. We brought in additional coolers to help us keep up with the demand of storage for cold items.”

With all the hiccups, Duehring said the efforts have paid off.

“Just trying to keep our products in front of our customers,” he said.

The rebuild
Duehring said there were expansion discussions happening even before the fire.

“We actually had plans in place to expand (the 115 E. Main St. location),” he said. “We were close to saying, ‘yes, let’s do it.’” 

When the fire happened and rebuilding conversations started, Duehring said the decision was made to rebuild the meat market at the 303 W. Main St. location next to the Eden Cafe and Eden Corner Express gas station.

“We quickly decided it made sense to proceed with plans (to rebuild) next to the cafe – wider location, no levels, no elevators, no stairs,” he said.

Because they were already talking to a contractor for an expansion at the 115 E. Main St. location, Duehring said the contractor was on scene right away and rebuild plans began relatively quickly after the fire.

“We submitted (for) the permit,” he said. “We are waiting on bids to come back. I’m hoping we can start breaking ground (soon), but there’s some adjustments we have to make to our current building before we start expanding. So, those steps are already starting.”

As far as a timeline for project completion, Duehring said it’s somewhat hard to predict.

Jeff Duehring said making pizzas was the first thing Eden’s Meat Market was able to start back up in the temporary space after the fire. He said the new building will have a space dedicated to pizza making. Submitted Photo

“We did (announce) November,” he said. “A couple of months ago, I was optimistic we could open in midsummer. I don’t feel like that is going to be an option anymore because they haven’t even broke ground. It’ll take us a little bit of time.”

Duehring said it will also take a bit of time to get the market ready for customers after the construction part of the rebuild is completed.

“We have to build up our inventory, too,” he said. “We don’t want to open the doors and have empty shelves. We want to be prepared.”

When construction is completed and the equipment is up and running, Duehring said it’s likely the market will have a “dry-run” opening for friends and family to “make sure everything is running” correctly before opening it to the public.

“Just to get the registers running the way they should, and the scales connected,” he said. “We don’t (want to) open the doors and realize, ‘oh, shoot, we got a huge problem here.’ I’m eager to open the doors and have customers come in, but I have to pump the brakes a tad bit (and make sure we are doing things right).”

Family affair
Duehring said Eden Meat has been a family-owned business since 1890.

“Our slogan is, ‘quality meat and sausage since 1890,’” he said. “That’s when we can prove there was a business there. We can’t necessarily prove it was a meat market, but we know it was a retail establishment.”

Over the years, Duehring said ownership of the market passed through a handful of families over the years.

“It’s been family owned with a couple of families involved over the years,” he said. “Our family (the Duehring and Hermann family) took over in 1983. Five family members are involved in ownership – my uncle, my brother and two cousins. Since then, we’ve expanded not only the meat market, but also through (the opening of) restaurants, gas stations and a catering business.”

The family owns three gas stations – the Ledgeview Express (N7593 Taycheedah Way, Fond du Lac), the Eden Corner Express (301 W. Main St., Eden) and the Heritage Ridge Travel Plaza (1705 Shaler Drive, Waupun).

They also own two, in-operation restaurants – the Wild Goose Cafe (1707 Shaler Drive, Waupun) and the Eden Cafe (303 W. Main St., Eden).

Temporary operations of the meat market and the catering business are currently being housed at the former Eden Grill (N7591 Taycheedah Way, Fond du Lac).

Duehring said Eden Meat employees are an extension of that family, and retaining those employees was a top priority of theirs after the fire.

“We knew if they moved on to something else, most likely we weren’t going to get them back with the way the job market is right now,” he said. “We tried to react as quickly as we could. We sat them down for a group meeting, an open-ended meeting and said, ‘you guys are extremely important to us – we need you when we are back open.’”

Duehring said it’s “remarkable” all full-time employees have remained onboard.

“Get them busy doing something maybe they’re not used to doing, but in the end, I think their knowledge has expanded and their versatility (within the company) has expanded as well,” he said. 

New building, new offerings
Duehring said the new building will be accompanied by new offerings as well.

“We’ve got a running list of things, new items and new services we’re looking forward to improving on and adding,” he said. “Heat-and-serve meals – prepared meals that are ready to go.”

Duehring said conversations have been had about also adding a bakery.

“(That might include) fresh loaves of bread, scones, cinnamon rolls and stuff we weren’t able to take advantage of with our mainstream location,” he said. “We will also carry some local grocery items. I want to support the community with what they can provide, like local honey, maple syrup and coffee – grocery items that are maybe a little bit harder to find. Expanding our cheese lineup with different cheeses from Wisconsin and maybe across the country and the world.”

Dehuring said the new building will also allow the market to expand its sub sandwich and pizza making abilities.

“We’ve got a room designated just for pizza making,” he said. “But potentially, some take-and-bake pizzas made fresh, basically right in front of us. Same with the sub sandwiches. We’ll have a brand-new lineup for our subs.”

Duehring said Eden Meat has been able to maintain strong relationships with its suppliers during this transition time.

“There’s been a huge cut on what we’ve been able to order in because we don’t have smokehouses and our sales have dropped because we don’t have a brick-and-mortar,” he said.

Duehring said the feedback the market has gotten from the community has been “really positive.”

“I think everybody is excited to be back browsing the store and the new products and services,” he said. “It’s going to be great. I know it will be. It’s a matter of getting there.”

Duehring said, don’t get him wrong, he is excited, “most definitely.”

“As an owner, you still have to be careful and nervous about certain things,” he said. “Realize there’s a risk out there. We’re spending a lot of money trying to get the thing back. There’s an obvious risk there financially. But I’m confident we’ve got staff who can handle it. And we’re confident in our loyal customer base.”

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