by Tom Finkel
The fire in the wee hours yesterday that destroyed Wenneman Meat Market on State Route 15 in St. Libory, Illinois, dealt a crippling blow to a family business that has been in operation for more than 80 years.
"It is a nightmare I hope I wake up from soon," co-owner Paul Otten told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It also did a serious number on local chefs and restaurateurs.
"Wenneman provides a lot of meats for St. Louis restaurants, and for me, they do a lot," says Monarch executive chef Josh Galliano. "They process some of the pigs and beef I buy from Illinois farmers. They were the only butcher shop that would dry-age a grass-fed cow for me."
The fire hit Galliano close to home in more ways than one.
"[Co-owner] Brad Schmitz at Wenneman is just an awesome, genuine guy," Galliano tells Gut Check via e-mail. "They are in my neighborhood, close to my father-in-law's, and [my wife] went to school with some of the employees there."
"This is not good," Zupanci writes. "We work with one farmer for our pork and beef and he processes everything at Wenneman. I got a text from him at 7:30 this morning and then a phone call at 9 to discuss how we move forward.
"One thing that totally sucks is that the bacon recipe that Wenneman makes with our farmer, Chad's, pork is unbelievably delicious and popular. Now...we have none. In fact, people have come into Township Grocer today to buy up what we had."
It only gets worse.
"The big deal is that they were federally inspected and approved," Zupanci notes. This allowed the small farmers in the area to process there. That meant the farmers could sell at Missouri markets and sell to restaurants over there. Now they don't have a place [for processing]. They can sell what has been processed so far, but that is a very limited supply.
"Honestly, this is a very big deal to my farmers and us. The Otten boys are awesome and ran a great processing plant. This is a huge blow to the local agricultural scene in Illinois.
Echoes Monarch's Galliano: Wenneman is a hallmark of our community, from processing deer to supplying a meeting place for farmers. You should see that place on Saturday -- it's jampacked! Plain and simple, they rock."
Gut Check will have more about the aftermath of the Wenneman fire in the coming days.