There’s something funny about the bratwursts you can find at Grundhofer’s Old Fashion Meats in Hugo, Minn. ... but that, to owner Spencer Grundhofer, is a very good thing. It seems that a local businessman conned youngsters into going to Grundhofer’s retail shop to buy “gummy bear brats.”

When the meat shop owner told him there was no such thing, the jokester kept sending those kids back to buy sweet flavored gummy brats. After a few months, Grundhofer conjured up a small batch of his beloved bratwursts and used gummy bears as an ingredient. To his astonishment, they were a hit and remain to this day his number one selling meat product.

Now the upshot to this story isn’t just that this 50-year-old meat processor hit on a new product; it’s more about the fact that this experience triggered Grundhofer’s imagination and creativity so much that today this is the place where customers can find over 140 different brat flavors, in a small community of 15,000 people.

Sweet meat treats

Complementing those 18,000 lbs of gummy bear brats, which require the owner to buy 2,500 lbs of the candy treats per year, is his number two best seller: the regular brat. But following on that list are the egg roll, the beer bacon cheese curd, and three-cheese brat. You just couldn’t make it up, so you have to go to the company’s website and take a look at the brat litany that includes flavors like caramel apple, pizza, grape cool aid, Chicken Alfredo, Hawaiian chicken, buffalo wing and ranch, fajita, honey garlic, Bloody Mary, clam and bacon, whiskey peppercorn and even a turkey pot pie version.

So where did Grundhofer come up with all those varieties? One source would be his 31 employees, who are rewarded if they suggest a flavor that sells over 100 lbs. You soon get a sense that an undisclosed ingredient in the products of this shop appears to be “fun.”

“I worked as a youngster in 1984 cleaning equipment at Nadeau’s Star Market,” Grundhofer said. “The owner and his sons were my friends, and I learned meat cutting from them – even game processing and custom meats. In 1999, I began work at Festival Foods as a journeyman meat cutter until 2006. I aspired to own my own meat shop, but Nadeau’s was closed.

“I found a 1950’s era building that once served as a machine shop and office area and converted it into a 2,800-square-foot meat shop. Things were getting tough with Covid, but we knew that families wanted to buy locally and from people they trusted to have quality meats. Despite the hard times, I went ahead with a plan to open a second retail shop in Forest Lake, more of a recreational and tourist area about five miles away. That location has a population of about 25,000. I was able to open the new location in July of 2021 and supply it from our main facility in Hugo.”

Grundhofer has both shops open seven days a week and relies on a nephew Jacob “Bear” Grundhofer, now 21, who’s been with him for seven years, to help handle management aspects of the business. The enterprise operates under Minnesota Department of Agriculture jurisdiction as a retail and custom exempt business.

Grundhofer's bratsSource: Grundhofer's Old Fashion Meats


Custom craft

The shop does a solid trade in custom processing, particularly for quarters and sides, and obtains all its beef from Minnesota beef-producing families. He works with an on-the-farm slaughter operator and handles custom processing to the customers’ specifications. His pork is obtained from family operations in Nebraska.

Grundhofer’s Old Fashion Meats normally does a strong business for sportsmen who bring only boneless venison, elk, antelope and moose meat in for conversion to value-added specialty products. The shop noted a downturn in the normally high volume of deer processing this past fall, largely due to wet and poor weather.

“It seemed as though when we slowed down with game processing, our farm customers loaded us up on beef and pork for further processing,” Grundhofer explained. “We also smoke ducks and wild fowl.”

When asked about his training, he points out that he’s learned most everything about meat from others. He uses that philosophy to train new employees as well.

“If we have a good meat cutter, he’s the one who trains new workers in that area,” he said. “Our best sausage-makers train the new folks in that department. And in retail, that same pattern follows.”

Getting and training good employees are one thing, but retaining them with incentives is another ballgame, he added.

“In December we rewarded our employees with an incentive program from $500 to $200 for the month if they clocked in on time and out at the correct time, didn’t miss any work, and did their jobs the way they were expected to do them. Everyone seemed to like that incentive plan.”

In the area of promotion and advertising, Spencer says the business advertises heavily on radio, reaching into the Twin Cities (about 20 miles to the south). They even named one of their brats the Brotherhood 93X, after a rock and roll radio station that promoted them heavily. They also used a billboard to let people know about the opening of their new retail store in Forest Lake.

Reliance on the internet is limited because of restrictions on shipping and fulfillment issues to customers who haven’t come into the retail store.

“That’s something that we will consider for the future, but right now we have our hands full, and business is strong and growing,” Grundhofer said.

Meat case mastery

Some of those special bratwurst flavorings trickle over into the meat snack stick and jerky recipes, such as maple, cheddar, jalapeno and chicken. The growing bacon and double smoked hams are there in abundance, as are smoked sausages, summer sausage, kielbasa and a smoked country taste treat to remember. Let’s put it more simply. There are 25 flavors of beef snack sticks, eight chicken versions, 20 styles of jerky (including Wagyu beef and turkey profiles), 15 types of smoked sausage, seven styles of bacon, plenty of flavors for summer sausage and a smoked salmon that is rated as a shop specialty.

The retail case and custom cutting counter might hold your attention until you feast your eyes on the pulled pork, beef, turkey, meat balls and a fantastic line-up of take-home-and-heat-up entrees.

When asked if he participates in product competitions, Grundhofer said he doesn’t have the time and lets the products sell themselves. And when questioned about where that imagination for innovation came from, he said, “When I was young and learning the business, I would go to the garage and there was this huge stack of MEAT+POULTRY magazines. I would sit back and read them cover to cover. Then I would go to the next stack and read them cover to cover. Sometimes, I would reread them. If you look at what other people are doing, you can really learn a lot.”