“Bizarre Foods” host, Andrew Zimmern, helped introduce Polashek’s ethnic meat products to America.
Few people know how to find the rural community of Protivin, Iowa, population 300. So why does a small locker plant located there ship products from coast to coast, and the phone ring off the hook, and the e-mails come buzzing in when a certain TV food show airs a rerun?
It probably has much to do with a 2013 episode on the Travel Channel show called Bizarre Foods, featuring host Andrew Zimmern, who paid Polashek’s a visit to film the piece.
“We got a phone call out of the blue,” explains Adam Polashek, son of Paul and Judy Polashek, who bought the local locker plant 33 years ago.
Paul gave up a 10-year career as a grain hauler and began pursuing a butcher and meat processing trade that his grandfather and uncle had plied for many years.
“Dad helped them out as a child in their meat locker, and when he bought this business in 1983, the family thing continued,” Adam relates. “I was even coming in as a kid to help label products.”
Two weeks after the acquisition, Paul and Judy attended the Iowa Meat Processors Association convention and thought about entering the cured meats competition. Two years later they began bringing home awards for their products.
“Business and our reputation began to grow to the point that people wanted our products and custom processing services so much that we were not able to go back to the IAMP convention for another 10 years,” Adam continues. “The place was just too busy with work. I finished studies at Northern Iowa Univ. in business management and computer science and had a job elsewhere. But I came home a lot and always seemed to come into the plant to help out.”
In 2007, Adam, now 36, made a decision to work in the family business full time. One of his first priorities was to get a website (polashekslocker.com) up and running. Later he pushed hard to begin putting the business name out on social media. A big concern was that they didn’t offer a “shopping cart” section in their website promotion. He says he was so busy shipping after the Bizarre Foods show aired that it became a priority, albeit one website endeavor that is still under construction.
“It’s free advertising,” he states about social media. “Letting customers and potential customers know what specials you have and posting pictures is important. We began going back to the IAMP conventions and entering our products after the long absence. We began winning in many categories. We even entered the Best of the Midwest Cured Meats competition which included processors who entered products from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. We were able to take home the Best of Show top award and people began talking about us like never before.”
Old country fame
The Polashek family remains true to its original recipes derived from their Czechoslovakian heritage. While their ring bologna, snack sticks, natural casing wieners and summer sausage constitute the bulk of the plant’s best-selling products, it is the Czech-style original products that spring boarded them to national acclaim.
“We buy inspected meats from Iowa and Wisconsin, but operate our processing under Iowa state meat inspection,” Adam adds. “That enables us to ship across the country. Our biggest seller is the Jaternice sausage which comes in casings and in patty form. We produce about 15,000 lbs. of that item alone in a year.”
Jaternice is a blend of pork tongue, cheek meat, snouts and pork trim mixed with cracker meal, onions, celery, garlic and barley. It is one of the unusual products that prompted a customer to recommend a visit to the plant by Andrew Zimmern and his TV crew.
“Andrew tried our Jaternice, along with head cheese, hocks and pickled onion tripe and in a big way helped reintroduce these ethnic meat products to the nation,” Adam recalls. “The phone and e-mails were buzzing like never before and when that e-mail and phone traffic picks up, we know that a rerun of the show has just aired.”