MARENGO – Marengo’s longtime butcher is ready to give his hands a rest.
Rodger Brandt, the 70-year-old owner of Wayne’s Country Market, is getting ready to retire after working at the meat market for nearly six decades.
Wayne’s Country Market seems from a bygone era. Brandt knows many customers by name and order. Indeed, customer service is a hallmark of his business.
“Wayne’s is an icon,” said Randy Hauschildt, chairman of the Marengo-Union Chamber of Commerce Board and manager of BMO Harris Bank in Marengo. “Its reputation in the community is superb. [Brandt] knows his customers and the people love him.”
Hauschildt and his family have been shopping at Wayne’s Country Market for many years.
Brandt would like to see the business, Marengo’s second oldest, continue after he retires. But it’s not yet clear what will happen to it.
Brandt’s shop is at the front of his property at 801 W. Grant Highway. The nearly 3-acre site includes units rented to an auto body shop and a towing service. It is listed for sale for $1.7 million.
Brothers Wayne and Bob Beggs opened Wayne’s Country Market on Main Street in a small store in 1952.
Brandt started working there in 1955 when he was 12. He made 25 cents an hour his first week on the job, but did well enough that Wayne Beggs doubled his salary during his second week.
Unable to afford college, Brandt absorbed all he could and developed a passion for his work at Wayne’s.
“I didn’t know if it was what I wanted to do,” Brandt said. “But I’ve enjoyed it ever since.”
Wayne Beggs taught Brandt the business – first how to clean up around the store, then how to wait on customers, and finally, how to cut and prepare the meat.
Brandt was drafted into the United States Army in 1966 and came back to Marengo to work as the store manager in 1969. He spent 15 years in that position before buying the store in 1984 from Bob Beggs.
In 2001, a fire forced Brandt to relocate. He picked a larger space on Route 20 in Marengo’s central business district. Wayne’s celebrated its 60th anniversary there in 2012.
“The rewarding part is customer satisfaction,” Brandt said. “You give customers a good quality meat and they are pleased and happy with it and they continue to come back. I have some of the best patrons and clientele in the world.”
Brandt’s wife, Barbara, and daughter, Brianna, and several grandchildren also work at the store.
Over the years, Brandt has created new rubs and marinades to keep things interesting at Wayne’s. There are about 20 different varieties of chicken breast, featuring a variety of marinades, rubs and stuffed options.
In the 1950s, Beggs began making bratwursts with a recipe he got from a German he’d met in Wisconsin. The idea was slow to catch on because back then nobody had heard of brats. Wayne’s still sells that original brat recipe, and more than 10 variations – from jalapeño cheddar to bleu cheese to taco.
Many residents would find it hard to imagine Marengo without Wayne’s Country Market, said Marengo-Union Chamber of Commerce Managing Director Christine Wienke.
Several local restaurants and businesses also depend on Wayne’s for meat and other products, she said.
“To go in there and not see Rodger behind the counter,” Hauschildt said, “would be a real culture shock to the community.”
Brandt said he’s not sure what will happen to the business he and his family have helped build and expand over the decades.
“I hope someone would take it over, but I’m not exactly sure if that is going to happen,” he said. “I’ll probably be here for a few more years with the way the economy is. Nobody’s buying.”
Brandt talked his grandson out of purchasing the family business because of the long hours. Brandt said he routinely works 70 to 80 hours a week.
But if the right offer comes in, Brandt said he’s ready to retire.