Sharing 100 Years of History
With 200 years of combined history, Empire Fish Co. and Neesvig’s have grown side by side and share many similarities. In fact, both companies were founded in the same year, 1913. Being in business for this long demonstrates the quality and trust that our companies provide to our customers. Empire Fish Co. and Neesvig’s hold the same high standards for customer satisfaction and by working together, have been able to expand their selection of the finest meats and seafood available. Empire Fish Co. and Neesvig’s are names that have stood the test of time and continue to be leaders in their industries.
Empire Fish Co.’s 100 Years of History
On December, 13, 1913, Jerry Kutchera and John Tauffner opened Empire Fish Co. in a rented store front at 1921 W. Vliet St. in Milwaukee Wisconsin. The business was not an immediate success and after six months John left and Jerry bought his share out. After all, Jerry was the one that was the one that was familiar with the fish business. Having worked in the Milwaukee fish markets since 1908, Jerry could see that a new fish market could have success in the Milwaukee market. His experience began when he worked for Higgins Fish Market, followed by Booth Fish Co., and finally for Imperial Fish Co.
In 1922, Jerry moved the business up the street to 2417 (later 2423) W. Vliet St. He had bought a lot and built a new building in what then was a German Catholic neighborhood. Business continued to grow and in 1923, Harold Kutchera entered the business as well as his brother Elmer the following year. Freezing units came in during this time.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s made no particular dent in the fish business. For all the unemployment in the nation at the time, the fish business prospered. As a matter a fact Empire Fish Co., in its long history, has never had a general layoff. Jerry Kutchera semi-retired from the business and Harold and Elmer ran it from then on.
In 1940, additions were made to the store. These consisted of a new store front, a remodeled interior store and processing area, as well as the addition of a freezer off the cooler room. The war years made business boom again. With meat in short supply, fish became in great demand.
Jerry Kutchera died in 1949.
Throughout the 1950’s, Empire Fish Co. continued to deliver to households but the bulk of the business, as is true today, was in wholesale sales to restaurants and institutions.
In 1959, Gerald E. Kutchera (Jerry), the son of Elmer, joined the business and shortly thereafter became active in management.
Since 1960, Empire Fish Co. has expanded and diversified its product line including frozen French fried potatoes, dried goods, cheeses, and picnic hams. The rationale was: as long as we are delivering our fish products to restaurants, we can just as easily deliver other products needed by these same customers. Because of this expansion, a new addition to the building was again required. The size of the building was doubled with most of the square footage devoted to a new freezer.
In 1974, Empire Fish Co. saw the need for another expansion. On March 19, 1976 it moved operations to the new location in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The building was 20,000 square feet. The freezer was 5,000 square feet.
Throughout the 1980’s, the retail store expanded its line, and reached out to new customers in the Wauwatosa suburbs.
The 1990’s brought changes to the way the fish business operated. Grocery companies began to handle fish and seafood and the development of mega-distributors began. Because of this, Empire Fish Co. began handling products from all over the world. With modern transportation facilities, modern banking, advanced telecommunications, and sophisticated processing developments, the choices of fish and seafood and all other comestibles, expanded.
In May of 1995, Empire Fish Co. was purchased by Steve and Jim Meyer along with Paul Griesen. Times were changing and business was challenging. Empire Fish Co. learned to adjust and fought back with higher quality and service which resulted in a growing customer list. Empire Fish Co. worked together with Neesvig’s to capture synergies and cost saving to improve both companies.
Neesvig’s Inc. 100 Years of History
In 1913 Oswald “Ozzie” and Anna Neesvig founded the Madison Packing Company, which processed sausage and smoked meat products. Ozzie was a visionary and promoter while Anna was a plotter and steadfast. Ozzie was a big man and was often compared to Paul Bunyan’s size. Ozzie’s brother Len raised, harvested, and brought the beef into the market located at 307-308 West Johnson Street (currently occupied by a Room of One’s Own Books and Gifts), less than one block away from Madison’s famous State Street. This location was a slaughter house, sausage production facility, and retail butcher shop.
By the late 1920’s, Madison Packing Company had outgrown the local farm supply and began procuring meats from Chicago’s Fulton Street Market.
In the 1930’s, Madison Packing Company utilized a fleet of Ford Model A’s for deliveries. The company continued under the direction of Ozzie Neesvig and began expanding the sales of fresh red meats. The retail store was also remodeled during this time.
During the 1940’s the company still occupied the same location on West Johnson Street with the truck docks at the back of the building off Dayton Street. The business occupied three floors at this time, including smokehouses on the top floor.
Madison Packing Company bought Hersam Meats which was a small foodservice supply company. Shortly thereafter, the company name transformed into “Neesvig’s Madison Packaging Company”—“The House that Quality Steak Built”.
During this decade, the company began moving more and more into the foodservice market. The 1950’s saw American lifestyles begin to change; dining outside the home was growing rapidly into a consumer habit. Recognizing this, the company introduced a new concept to customers, portion controlled meat.
In the 1950’s, Ozzie’s son Burton “Ted” Neesvig eventually took over the company.
During the 1960’s the company continued to make sausage products, ring bologna, polish smoked brats, pork links, roast beef, and ham loaf. The large majority of business for Neesvig’s Madison Packaging Company at the time was providing fresh meats to the food service industry. A few larger customers at the time included the Park Motor Inn, Hotel Lorraine, UW Towers, and Smokey’s.
In 1966, Ted Neesvig died at the age of 59. Ted’s wife Jean assumed ownership of the company and became the first woman in the country to run a wholesale meat plant.
In the early 1970’s, the company expanded its upscale customer base by purchasing Blateau Meat Co., a small purveyor in Madison. On October 30, 1975 the company moved into its new USDA inspected facility at 417 Atlas Avenue in Madison and assumed the name of Neesvig’s Inc.
Neesvig’s became one of the first companies in the country to eliminate rails for handling beef. Instead, fresh meats were purchased as “boxed beef” and large, fabricated cuts. Neesvig’s began to specialize in the new concept of portion controlled cuts for the food industry.
The 1970’s also marked the beginning of providing product to national mail-order catalog companies and the beginning of Neesvig’s famous Saturday “Cooler” Sale.
In 1981 Marvin Leppert became president of the company and by 1983, Neesvig’s was accepted for designation into the Total Control Quality program that established a grade labeling system for further assurance of quality to our customers.
In 1985, Neesvig’s was named Wisconsin’s first Certified Angus Beef® distributor, a wonderful partnership that continues today.
On August 8, 1988, Jean Neesvig Manchester sold the company to Jim and Margaret Meyer. At the time of sale, Neesvig’s had grown to 50 full-time employees and over 100 part-time employees.
Neesvig’s expanded capacity to include multi-unit sales. Now, national foodservice establishments can enjoy the quality and consistency of Neesvig’s product in every unit, regardless of location across the country. In 1994, Neesvig’s expanded its product line to include fresh fish. The success of this program led to the purchase, with related parties, of Empire Fish Company of Milwaukee, WI.
In 1999, growth in all facets of the business enabled our move to a new state-of-the-art processing and distribution facility located in Windsor, WI. The new facility included multiple cutting and packaging systems with networked scaling and scanning stations that assured precise weights and sizing of portion control products. The cooler, freezer, production, and loading dock areas were all individually climate controlled to maintain appropriate temperatures for all products and processes. Neesvig’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) program was also fully implemented. This facility still serves as our main operating facility today.
Neesvig’s continued its relationship with the Certified Angus Beef program and sold 9.8 million pounds of Certified Angus Beef product from 2004 to 2007. Neesvig’s national ranking of 12th out of 110 Certified Angus Beef distributors was the highest ranking for any independent meat company for the year. The company also continued to move forward by investing in technologies throughout the business.
In 2011, the foundation for Neesvig’s and Empire Fish Co.’s one order, one invoice was set. In 2012, Neesvig’s purchased a state-of-the-art fulfillment facility in DeForest that enables guaranteed nation-wide shipping for locations outside of our immediate service area.