Getting into the game

Meat processing among Pembine Food Depot’s extra services

FROM LEFT ARE Tim Potterville, owner of the Pembine Food Depot, with daughters Chelsea Potterville and Tiffany Hametner in front of the well-stocked meat case. Custom-made sausage and snack sticks are among the Pembine, Wis. grocery store’s specialties, often using venison and other game meats. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

PEMBINE, Wis. — Now that the gun deer hunt has ended, the busy season will begin for Tim Potterville’s Pembine Food Depot.

He had five orders of venison come in the Monday after the final weekend, ready to be made into sausage, brats and other products. Processing deer meat is one service his market can offer that helps keep it viable in a rural community like Pembine.

Potterville has owned the small grocery store at N18678 U.S. 141 for 25 years, since he saw it came up for sale. He’d been looking for a way out of corporate life, he said.

“So I went to the bank,” Potterville said, “and thought I’d roll the dice.”

But he wasn’t going into it cold, having worked in the food industry and, earlier, as a grocery store manager in Norway for about 10 years.

THE PEMBINE FOOD Depot has been in business off U.S. 141 in Pembine, Wis., for 25 years. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

Despite the store’s size and location, Potterville has maintained a customer base by offering baked goods made in the store, a hot and cold deli, and a meat department that does its own cutting, smoking and curing.

“Do all the things a big store does,” Potterville said, “but we do a lot of one-on-one, too.”

While business remains steady, Potterville would like to see it improve enough that he could expand the business. They also have had to contend with a national chain store opening in Pembine that can offer prices on some products he simply can’t match.

What he can provide is “variety and quality,” he said.

“We do specialty breads you can’t get anywhere else,” he said, such as jalapeno cheddar and bacon cheddar ranch, along with sweet favorites like blueberry and banana.

But perhaps the key part of the business is the meat department. They can make about 27 flavors of bratwurst and snack sticks, from recipes both handed down and developed through trial and error, doing small batches to “come up with the right combination,” he said.

The most popular flavors have been jalapeno cheese, garlic and cheese, and honey barbecue.

They specialize in converting wild game into a variety of sausage — summer, breakfast, Polish and Italian — and snack sticks in flavors such as Bloody Mary and chipotle wild fire.

They guarantee customers will get back products made with their own venison, rather than pooled with other deer meat brought in, Potterville said. About 15 pounds of boneless venison can yield about 25 pounds of sausage after being mixed with pork to add fat, “so it’s not so dry,” he explained.

While deer and bear are the most common game brought in, he’s also converted about 15 elk, turkey, duck and goose into sausage. Depending on the size of the order, the store usually can have it processed within two weeks, Potterville said.

The other area Potterville focuses on, he said, is being involved in the community. He serves as a volunteer on the fire department, is a baseball umpire and helps out at Grace Lutheran Church of Pembine.

His daughters who work at the store — Tiffany Hametner, 27, and Chelsea Potterville, 22 — also volunteer on the Pembine-Dunbar-Beecher Rescue Squad.

And the store encourages customers to collect UPC labels from the Best Choice store brand products to raise money for the Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine School District. The company gives back money for every UPC code turned in at the store, Hametner explained, adding that the Country Hearth brand does the same for its breads.

“It’s just an easy way for people to help out the school,” she said, “and they didn’t have to pay anything more.”