Jim’s Meat Market, a mainstay of Madison’s North Side, will close its doors in mid-January after 41 years of operation.
The meat market, which is known for a large variety of handmade specialty bratwurst, was informed on Wednesday that its lease within a building owned by PDQ will end Jan. 31, said Jim’s co-owner John Lehman.
La Crosse-based Kwik Trip announced in July that it will acquire Middleton-based PDQ, which operates 15 convenience stores in Madison.
While Lehman knew closing was a possibility after hearing about the acquisition, he said the loss of his lease took him and co-owner Claude Mattie by surprise. Jim’s will hopefully be shuttered only temporarily, Lehman said. The owners are still trying to absorb the news.
“We’re not sure if we want to become bigger or maybe just even a little smaller,” Lehman said. “Basically, I’m just trying to get through Labor Day right now.”
If Jim’s Meat Market, 1436 Northport Drive, does reopen, Lehman said they would love to stay on the North Side.
David Ring, community relations manager for Kwik Trip, said the decision to end the lease has nothing to do with the business itself, but is predicated on the need for a larger footprint that Kwik Trip stores require compared with the size of the current PDQ store.
“Obviously, it’s a mainstay in the Madison community, and they do a phenomenal job running their business,” Ring said.
He said Jim’s Meat Market, which is on a month-to-month lease, will be able to stay at the location rent-free for the last four months. Ring also said Kwik Trip would help Lehman and Mattie try to relocate.
Angie Winter, who grew up on Madison’s North Side but now lives in Waunakee, came into the market Thursday to pick up lunch.
“It literally brought me to tears yesterday,” she said. “It’s just a staple.”
Lehman will have worked at the meat market for 29 years in January, and Mattie has been there 20 years. They co-owned the business with its founder, Jim Fosdick, until the market’s namesake retired six years ago. Fosdick came into the store Wednesday to check on Mattie and Lehman after hearing about the news.
Lehman recalled how Fosdick paid for him to go to school and learn meat cutting. When Lehman first started at Jim’s, Fosdick consistently put filet mignon on sale as he learned how to make a proper cut for the steak.
“I couldn’t cut anything,” Lehman said “But about 12 months later, (the filets) were not on sale any more because I could actually make them look halfway decent.”
Eric Sullivan, of Waunakee, said he was surprised to hear about the impending closure. He opts to travel to the Madison shop over going to closer meat markets.
“I’ve been coming down here through thick and thin for 20-some years,” he said. “These guys are an institution.”
Like other markets and butchers, Jim’s sells steaks, hamburgers, pork chops, seafood and a wide variety of items. But its bestseller, which comes in dozens of flavors, is the hand-mixed, hand-cranked bratwurst.
Jim’s Meat Market started selling a cherry and chipotle pepper brat, its first specialty, almost two decades ago. While people were initially skeptical of the creation, the bright red brat started to rival its traditional counterpart in sales.
To date, the meat market has masterminded more than 50 varieties of pork, chicken and beef brats, including chicken, bacon and ranch; fajita; gyro; and blueberry.
“We’re making brats pretty much every day, pretty much all day long,” Lehman said.
When a macaroni and cheese brat hit the counter a few years ago, 2,000 links sold out in two days. Over Memorial Day weekend, the market sold about 5,000 bratwurst links per day.
Aside from brats, Jim’s makes meatloaf, meatballs, chicken cordon bleu and other food from scratch.
“Almost all our stuff is homemade,” Lehman said. “That’s kind of what separates us, in my opinion, from a grocery store.”
Throughout Thursday morning, Lehman fielded calls and questions from walk-in customers about the future of Jim’s Meat Market.
“We’d like to stay here for another 41 years if we could,” Lehman told one person.
He credits the store’s success over more than four decades to its current and former employees and its dedicated customer base.
“We’ve had a good time here, lots of good memories and lots of good times,” Lehman said.