Why Underground Butcher Went Belly-Up

There has been chatter around the city about the state of affairs in the life and times of Jonny Hunter, co-founder and public face of Underground Food Collective.  Within the past days, it was announced publically that the local shop, Underground Butcher, was finally going to close.  It had been rumored, but one could hope it was nothing more than that.  But after the closing of Forequarter a couple months ago, there seemed to be far more to the story, or as they say in a newsroom, what was happening seemed to have legs.

And now we know there was more, sadly, lots more.  Isthmus has one of those must-reads for Madisonians. 

Hunter is currently a defendant in several lawsuits involving the Underground Food Collective — a vernacular, umbrella name that encompasses several LLCs, including Underground Catering LLC, Badger Meats LLC, Middlewest Restaurant LLC and Underground Kitchen and Delicatessen LLC.

  • In October, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development filed claims in Dane County Circuit Court against Hunter for unpaid unemployment taxes totaling $10,718.
  • The Department of Revenue has filed warrants for unpaid taxes, also in circuit court, amounting to $59,795 against Underground Catering LLC dating back to August 2018.
  • Brothers Ben and Matt Feifarek, investors in Hunter’s never-launched restaurant Middlewest, 809 Williamson St., and Underground Meats, filed a lawsuit in September in Dane County Circuit Court against Hunter, Underground Meats LLC and Middlewest Restaurant LLC, over their $175,000 investment, alleging financial mismanagement and misrepresentation.
  • Premier Proteins, a supplier of high-end beef and pork in Kearney, Missouri, is suing Hunter and Underground Catering over unpaid bills for product amounting to $43,650.
  • Working Draft Beer Company, 1129 E. Wilson St., is suing Hunter in Dane County Circuit Court for breach of contract in a dispute over the lease for Working Draft. Hunter, who himself leases the building from S-K Investment Co., sublets part of the space to Working Draft. According to the lawsuit complaint, the dispute centers on access to shared utilities, intent to build a patio, use of parking spaces, and an increase in rent, among other items. Working Draft also alleges that Hunter is keeping kitchen equipment paid for by, and intended for, Working Draft. Hunter, in turn, is trying to evict Working Draft from its space

Starting an adventure like Hunter undertook is not easy.  But, there is never any way to make numbers bend, even when a dream is attached to the outcome.  So I feel sorry for Hunter, and wish him the best in his next pursuits.  I am sure there will be more business ventures ahead for this man.  Lessons learned will turn into an asset.  That truism is one thing that can be banked for the years to come.

Keta Steebs Recalled Life With Old-Fashioned Charm

It is time to share some memories of a truly great lady.  This past week one of Keta Steebs’ newspaper columns was reprinted in a Northeastern Wisconsin paper and it caused me to go back in time.

There are some in Door County who understood that I had a ‘crush’ on Keta, even though she was ‘slightly’ older than me.   I was the new hire at WDOR Radio, and she was the established writer at the local paper, the Door County Advocate.   She seemed to know everybody, and better yet, everything about everybody.  Just the type of person I needed to know when starting out in both broadcasting and local politics.  To be around her meant that others would soon flock and amazing conversations would follow.  She has that type of personality that drew others near.

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I have met only a rare handful that can turn heads when they enter a room, and Keta could.  That struck me at the age of 20 as quite impressive.  I most enjoyed talking with her during some very long and tedious county board meetings that we covered for our respective newsrooms.  Many a time all she wanted was a cigarette, and I just wanted an adjournment of the proceedings.  We would laugh and kid each other about all sorts of things, and shared political sentiments that made us kindred spirits in staunchly conservative Door County.

Being a part of the Door County media I knew the writers at the local newspaper and had the pleasure of trading gossip and insights during the weekly lunches named ‘Pen-n-Mic Club’ where we would all sit and review the world and local scene.  I recall that Keta would sit at another table with a few other women, and I would look over and wonder if she knew the guys at my table were talking about lots of stuff other than sports.  I made sure of that! I so wanted her to be close by and hear her memorable and hard-to-miss laugh.  As I said, I had a ‘crush’ on this lady.

Her columns, when reading again after the years since her death, are as warm and spirited as when first published.  Like this one I came across a few days ago.  I think you will enjoy it.

After weeks of scrubbing, painting and stocking shelves, Herman and Keta Steebs opened Happy Herman’s Market the week before Christmas in 1956. John Kopitzke ran a half-page ad in the Door Reminder and, as Keta said, “inadvertently became our first customer by buying a nickel candy bar.”

Keta’s brother-in-law, Wesley Landstrom, made a huge, plywood Santa Claus sleigh cutout for the store’s roof, and it won second prize in the Lions Club competition. Keta’s sister, Delores Landstrom, helped out in the store.

The following description of the early days of Happy Herman’s was written by Keta for a local newspaper. Her son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Kathy, provided the copy.

Opening night saw our first employee, Harriet ‘Sis’ Seaquist manning the checkout, yours truly helping Herman at the meat counter and gobs of customers jamming our aisles. The event was an unqualified success.

Our suppliers, the Plumb & Nelson Company of Manitowoc, Mrs. Karl’s Bakery, Pleck Dairy, Dick Brothers Bakery, Fairmont Ice Cream and two Green Bay produce companies all chipped in with prizes, adding a bit of a fillip to the occasion. Although our little store only had three aisles, we were able to carry some of everything. Space on the bread rack – limited as it was – was fought over daily by our competing bread men: Dale Seiler of Mrs. Karl’s and Gene Kasten of Dick Brothers.

Herman’s Market prided itself on its meat and, to justify that claim, Herman bought nothing but the best, using the oldest, least-popular cuts for our personal use. Equipped with a frying pan, slow cooker and Nesco roaster, Herman made such savory, good-smelling meals that our morning regulars – Wes Staver, Alma Bunda, Emma Pahl and Joe D’Louey – would copy his recipes and have the same meal themselves. One Ellison Bay couple – she thrifty, he not – drove in every other day to see what was cooking. While she shopped for the basics, he loaded his cart with gourmet foods and choice steaks.

Our meat first got a taste of the limelight when I decided to walk in the Fall Festival parade leading Ed Koessl’s cow – proclaiming “The Only Meat Fresher than Herman’s” – down Main Street. The cow showed her disapproval by stepping on my foot, laying me low for days. That same year, 1957, was the year our good friends Rita and Earl Willems opened their bowling alley, encouraging every business in the area to sponsor teams. Thanks to my bad foot, Herman’s Market was in the cellar all year.

But everything else was coming up roses. In 1962, in order to do needed remodeling, we bought – rather than continuing to rent – that homely little concrete building from owner Anna Peterson, who, with her niece, Eunice, had once used it as a tea room.

Before then – between the time Herman’s Market opened and Earl Willems bought a rotisserie to serve roast chicken to his growing number of bowlers – a major event took place. Ellsworth “Andy” Anderson, owner of Masterfreeze, a freezer-cooler operation, moved his factory directly across the street. Were we ever happy! Not only did business pick up, but Andy and Herman worked out a deal trading groceries for a new walk-in freezer-cooler, which, to my knowledge, may still be there.

Life was full and rich in those still-young years but, by 1968, the handwriting was on the wall. Blessed by then with two young sons but burdened with an unprofitable business (chains could sell cheaper than we could buy), we got out while the going was good.

Painful as the process was, it was inevitable. The mid-sixties, we belatedly learned, was not a propitious time for shoestring operations. Nor for stores prone to extending credit to customers who shopped elsewhere when they had money. But then, I never was good in arithmetic. The store was leased to George Brunns, and the Steebs’ farm home was rented.

What Keta had been good in since high school, however – when she penned essays for college students – was writing, and she soon had a job on the Women’s Desk of the Green Bay Press Gazette. She loved it, but Herman and their two little boys, Scott and Patrick, missed Sister Bay. “I came home every night to three long faces,” Keta wrote.

“Remember how in the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy kept repeating, ‘There’s no place like home; there’s no place like home’? Well, substitute ‘Sister Bay’ for ‘home,’ and you’ll have an idea of what I heard night after night. Fortunately, relief was in sight.

“Just as I was about to resort to a heavier dose of Valium, the miracle occurred, the clouds disappeared, the sun came from behind the clouds. Herman’s Market had a new owner, and that owner wanted Herman to run his old store. A Sturgeon Bay newspaper could use my services, and our home, thanks to an understanding renter, became available.”

Although the Steebs boys weren’t very old when Herman and Keta ran Happy Herman’s Market, Scott has one vivid memory.

“Little bags of Frito corn chips had a prize inside – a little eraser in the shape of the Frito Bandito. I took one to school, and all the other first- or second-graders were really impressed. I thought if I took enough erasers for everyone, I’d be really popular. So, I opened every bag in the store to get the erasers. My parents were not happy!”

The building that once housed Happy Herman’s Market is now Grasse’s Grill.

Special Honor Flight To Washington For Vets With Dementia Or Terminally Ill

A special honor flight took place yesterday to Washington.

Frank Shakespeare who was once head of CBS News, worked in the 1968 Nixon campaign and was the first US Ambassador to the Vatican in the 1980s was one of those who took the trip.  What a wonderful storehouse of stories this man could tell, and how eager I would have been to hear each and every one of them.   He had even known Edward Murrow!

My husband, James, started a guardianship business in Madison and now assists Frank, who still lives with his family.  We spent time at the airport area and the local VFW last night talking with people and doing something we had always wanted to participate in–the return of an honor flight.  If you have not done so, it is worth your time.   And when doing so strike up conversations with strangers–that is where the stories begin.

This really was a touching night for many as tears were coming down the cheeks of men around the room. The video can be viewed in the link above.


What About Authoritarianism Could Go Wrong?

More evidence to show the danger that Donald Trump poses to our republic, and more reason to feel concerned about the sheeple who kneel and bow to his whims.

A whopping 43% of Republicans now believe a president free of checks and balances could address the country’s problems more effectively, a number that has grown from just 14% during Trump’s presidency. More evidence of his reshaping of the party in favor of authoritarianism.

The share of Republicans who say presidents could operate more effectively if they did not have to worry so much about Congress and the courts has increased 16 percentage points since then, from 27% to 43%.

Democrats’ views are virtually unchanged over the past year: Currently, 82% say it would be too risky to give presidents more power, while just 16% say presidents could be more effective with less concern over Congress and the courts.

Those Darn “Witch Hunts”

There are times I need to do nothing more as a blogger than simply place the lead sentences into a post.  The commentary writes itself.

Republican Congressman Chris Collins is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to felony charges related to insider trading, two years after dismissing the allegations as a “witch hunt.”

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter says he will plead guilty to misusing campaign funds — a criminal case he’d once decried as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”