How a small-town meat market set a world record and changed the face of its community
Type “world record brat” into Google and staring back at you will be a 152-foot-9-inch brat from Prescott, Wisconsin. Known mostly for its placement along the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers and the constant rumble of train traffic, the fairly innocuous town isn’t a stranger to being in the news, thanks to a 103-year-old family-owned meat market and grocery store: Ptacek’s IGA.
In 2012, to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, Ptacek’s IGA—pronounced “peh-tack”—organized a world record attempt at the longest brat. Measuring in at 52 feet, the grocer successfully broke the previous world record for longest bratwurst. On Labor Day 2013, Ptacek’s IGA upped the ante and successfully stuffed a 152-foot brat, weighing in at 80 pounds and requiring 180 volunteers to grill. The epic sausage, served in one contiguous bun, broke the world record and landed the grocery store and the town of Prescott in the news.
What drove Store Manager Pat Ptacek to break the record not once, but twice, was anything but hubris. The reasoning behind these events, as well as the beer-and-bacon fest the store threw last year, can be traced back to one simple goal: improving the community the Ptacek family has been a part of for four generations.
“The number one asset for us—the number one thing we’re cognizant of—is our community,” Pat says. “We grew up here, our roots are here. It’s up to us if we want to make this a better community. It’s up to us as business owners to take charge and make it so.”
And the Ptaceks have done that with gusto. During the past three years of events, which always revolve around the celebration of Ptacek’s beginning as a meat market, IGA has raised roughly $80,000 to give to the city of Prescott for a new community park, Clydesdale Park. The name is a nod to the support they received from Budweiser, which sent their famous Clydesdales to Prescott for the 2013 world record attempt.
The close-knit Ptacek family has run the store for four generations now. When Pat started working at the original store, then named Ptacek’s Star Market, it was located in downtown Prescott and had only two checkout lanes.
Pat’s a bit hesitant to admit it, but he says when he was young, “you basically started [in the business] the moment you did anything. When you were four or five years old […] you were carrying empty boxes and putting them in the box crusher.” It wasn’t just him doing the heavy lifting as a young boy, of course. “The entire family, between my sisters and brothers, we all started at a very young age doing miscellaneous tasks: sweeping, box crushing, packing groceries—anything,” he explains while shuffling into his car to check in on the floor installation at the soon-to-open second storefront.
Pat’s parents, his five siblings, and a couple cousins currently work at the store. “One time last year we had 17 Ptacek family members on the payroll,” Pat says. Perhaps surprisingly, he adds that the mixing of family and business doesn’t cause any “weird family dynamics.” Rather, he says, it works well because there are always multiple owners at a given time, all of whom take different levels of responsibility and pride in the company and balance things out.
The Ptaceks pass down their respective skills to the next generation, keeping different departments of the store flourishing. They also seek out different classes and seminars to learn new tricks of the trade—or “pirate ideas from other people,” in Pat’s words. But it’s the family trades that have been handed down, he explains, which helped build the store’s reputation over the years.
For example, Raphael and Thomas Ptacek learned the butcher trade from their father, store owner Michael Ptacek. Their talents can be seen in the meat case, which is full of an eclectic variety of brats, filled with anything from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery cheese curds to wild rice and cranberries, all carefully handmade by the brothers.
One of the main reasons the family-owned-and-operated model, which could be considered outdated in some cities, has survived in Prescott is the community support of the Ptacek legacy. Residents not only shop at the store, but many are employed by it. When the Pcateks open the new, modern store in mid-May, the number of employees—almost exclusively from Prescott and its surrounding townships—will grow from 75 to 100. Pat says keeping the worker pool local is a focus of the store, as well as an advantage.
“Everything in our store is homemade: our deli food, our salads, our meat department’s smoked meats—everything is done in-house, and it just gives you a different vibe of the store,” he says. “You have to hire people who appreciate that.”
This year, Ptacek’s IGA is planning another community event on June 21 in correlation with Clydesdale Park’s projected grand opening. Pat hopes that this one will eclipse previous events and raise an estimated $120,000 to put the finishing touches on the park’s equipment, which will include a splash pad and zip line.
When pressed to spill more details, Pat brings the conversation back to Google. Ptacek’s set the World Record Academy record for the longest brat, but that fact isn’t what people always see first in their search engine results.
“Sometimes I joke that the world-record holder is whoever comes up first on Google,” Pat says. And he wants to be first across the board. “Last time, we did a 150-foot brat; this time, we’re looking at a 200- or 300-foot brat,” he reveals with pride. He quickly follows the thought with a more humble one: He really isn’t sure if 100 years from now any of this will matter.
But, he adds, “I do know that right now it helps create a sense of community. It helps to create something else to do, something fun to do, and it puts Prescott on the map a little bit. I don’t know how much, but at the last brat event we had people from Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.”
And, at the very least, it means something to him, his family, and those who enjoy their unique place among the confluence of rivers. “It gives you a sense of belonging,” he says. “A lot of people probably don’t have a chance to make a huge difference in their towns. We do. And it’s something we take seriously.”