Since 1949, TJ’s Butcher Block has been a culinary staple in the Lakeland community, but even the most established businesses find themselves in need of a face lift from time to time. So when the market was forced to move due to highway construction projects, owner Tim Krolczyk saw it as an opportunity to redefine the 65 year old business.
A new market was quickly constructed about a block south down Highway 51. Krolczyk decided that, unlike the construction that prompted the move, he wanted to make the project efficient, swift, and complete.
“I really wanted to do it first class and do it right the first time,” said Krolczyk. “I didn’t want to do something this year and then more next year and have a five-year plan. I decided to do a five month plan.”
Krolczyk wasn’t satisfied with just a new floor, walls, and roof; he replaced and improved much of the business’ equipment as well.
“We went all out with brand new state-of-the-art refrigeration equipment and a new smokehouse. From the refrigeration to the plumbing and electrical, we contracted as much of it as we could locally,” Krolczyk said.
Purchasing local goods and employing local services soon became one of the prominent themes in Krolczyk’s new business model.
“The whole building was built by local craftsman and all the signage was purchased locally,” Krolczyk said. “I like to buy as much food locally as I can; if not from the Lakeland area, then at least Wisconsin-based products. I like to support the Wisconsin economy and its independent businessmen.”
When it was time to review the range of products that the store offers, Krolczyk stood by his support of local products.
“Not only do we have new products but we have a wider variety of our traditional products. We offer a greater variety of brats, sausages, fresh Wisconsin cheeses, and a large selection of Wisconsin craft beers ... We have local salsas, jams, jellies, honeys, and condiments. You can find lots of unique Wisconsin products here.”
Krolczyk believes that the new facility has allowed him to turn the butcher block into a more complete grocery experience.
“We’ve got the right product mix now, we’ve completed the picture. Before you’d come in for some nice steaks, some shrimp or some seafood and go elsewhere for whatever else you might need. Now we can get you the steaks, charcoal, potatoes, salad, and some wine. Then while you’re here you can grab some farm-fresh eggs, bacon and sausage for breakfast, and don’t forget the kringles, fresh-baked pies and artisan breads.”
While Krolczyk expanded the scope of the store, he still strived to maintain that same personal buying experience that it had become known for.
“You can go in and talk with the butcher and show him how thick you want your steak. You can watch him cut it and see where it comes from. You can watch our people make ground beef and what they put in it. We have windows into the smokehouse so you can see them stuffing sausage and you can see our grinders, saws, and mixers. I think one of the most important things is seeing where your product comes from.”
The first class service doesn’t stop with the butchering, Krolczyk wants to ensure that customers make the most out of their purchase.
“Our staff all together has over 100 years of culinary experience ... They’re a very knowledgeable staff. Its a nice addition to be able to ask them how long to cook something, how to cook it, or what type of wine to have with it. You don’t get that kind of service at most places.”
Since reopening in May, the market has seen great results, thanks to the staffs commitment to these new upgrades and renovations.
“Too many businesses don’t take risks and they remain stagnant. The world changes and you have to change with it. Here we have all new refrigeration and equipment, but we’re going a little bit old-school on the products,” Krolczyk said.
“Its proven that there is a market of people that want to go back to good ‘ol Ma’s cooking. People come in and are surprised we have pork shanks, ox tails, and other things from their childhood. I think its important to maintain those traditions and to not lose them. If you can’t find the products that your grandparents made, then they tend to fade away. We need to maintain them,”
TJ’s Butcher Block is located at 8762 Highway 51 in Minocqua, is open year round, and continues to prove that sometimes the old ways are indeed the best ways.
Michael Strasburg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.