A few days before the Fourth of July holiday, the regular rush was back at Pekarna Meat Market in Jordan after a year of lockdowns, banned barbecues and early pandemic panic-purchasing. The busy ebb and flow of business on a Thursday afternoon would slow down by Saturday, ahead of the holiday, owner Greg Pekarna predicted.
It was a marked change from last year’s Independence Day, when social distancing was the law of the land, which put a huge dent in the barbecuing crowd that usually flocks to Pekarna ahead of summer holidays.
“Now we’re having parties again,” said Becky Seifert as she packaged up a slab of bacon for a customer.
Throughout 2020, Pekarna’s loyal customer base — some of whom have been shopping at the meat market for generations — and the peculiarities of pandemic shopping habits helped the meat market weather the uncertainty of the COVID era.
One regular revenue source for Pekarna is the hunters who bring their wild game to be butchered. Due to the pandemic, there was really only one deer season in 2020, said Dean Jacobs, merchandise and marketing coordinator with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Additionally, new, stricter state regulations on butchering wild animals and the prevalence of chronic wasting disease among deer mean that not all butchers want to take on the risk of accepting game, he added. There are plenty of resources to learn how to prepare game at home, but he still takes the deer he bags during bow and arrow season to a processor.
“I don’t have the right equipment. To do it correctly you have to have the knives, the tables, and if you’re going to grind it up you have to know the cuts of meat,” Jacobs explained. “There’s a learning curve and a stepping stone, and that’s where your local butcher shops really excel. They can get rid of a deer in three minutes because they do so many of them.”
During the busy season in November, the shop sometimes processes up to 20 deer a day, said Jim King, who’s worked in the back of house at Pekarna for nine years. The pandemic didn’t put much of a damper on that: employee Mark Fahrenkamp barely saw a dip in the number of hunters bringing game to be butchered throughout 2020.
“People who’re hunters are hunters,” he said with a shrug.
The first few weeks of the pandemic brought on a frenzy of customers unlike any that Seifert, who’s worked at Pekarna for over a decade, and her colleague Fahrenkamp, had ever seen. Toward the end of March 2020, “people were very much hoarding,” Fahrenkamp said, and the store was selling up to 400 pounds of ground beef per day where it usually only sells 70.
It was like the Christmas rush, Seifert added, “but you didn’t know if it was ever going to end.”
As people stocked up on food, the pandemic also disrupted supply chains for everything from computers to refrigerators around the world. Even with steady demand, “we’re down in sales because we can’t get things. That’s the limiting thing,” said Jim Halloran, owner of My Appliance Source in Shakopee.
“The inventory is trickling in, but it’s not uncommon to see three to six (month) backorder delays,” Halloran said. In normal times, the wait was usually three to six days, he added.
In rare cases, Halloran has begun offering a loaner fridge to customers whose current appliances won't last until a replacement arrives. My Appliance Source only has around 10 of those available, and they're all currently in use by community members. For families whose only other option is to not have a fridge for three months, it's been a pandemic lifesaver, Halloran said.
“We do feel strongly a part of this community, that’s really a big deal for us,” he said. “We want to give back and support the families that have supported my family for 44 years.”
That kind of community history has kept people coming back to Pekarna for decades. Carolyne Check regularly drives from uptown Minneapolis to Water Street Antiques, where she’s been a dealer on and off for years, and she’s sure to stop by Pekarna for pork chops and ground beef. She detests grocery shopping, but Pekarna’s cuts and service has earned her loyalty over the years.
“That’s what I look for, fresher products,” Check said.
It probably helps that Pekarna uses the same recipe to turn deer trimmings into sausages that it uses for its popular in-house products.
Christina Grand, of Belle Plaine, has been a regular since her mother took her along on shopping trips for ribs, pickled head cheese and bacon. Her father, a dairy farmer for 45 years, always started his day with Pekarna bacon, she said. Seifert made sure to pass small slices of bologna to Grand’s two sons, who were shopping with her.
“We always come here,” Grand said. “Your nose brought you right to this place.”