Wishek sausage 'pays the bills' at Stan's Supermarket
Darren Deile runs Stan's Supermarket, a small grocery store in rural North Dakota with an outsized reputation for the sausage that it ships across the continental U.S.
At Stan’s Supermarket, sausage pays the bills. Can you relate to knowing the niche of a small business that is known for a specific product or a small town whose brand ties into a product?
People often know Wishek, North Dakota, for its homemade sausage at the local grocery store. Wishek sausage attracts thousands of customers to this small town tucked into a south-central North Dakota county without a stoplight and 90 miles from a big box store.
The most important aspect I've observed in my 17 years as a consumer of Wishek sausage isn’t simply a ring of perfectly seasoned and smoked German-style sausage shipped to all 48 lower United States — it’s the impact Wishek sausage makes on a multi-generational family business, helping drive a local, rural economy.
I reached out to Stan’s Supermarket owner Darren Deile, 54, to share how Wishek sausage sales drive his rural grocery store business. I believe in supporting all kinds of rural, small businesses and as a fellow small business owner, I’ve experienced firsthand how a rural business needs to have a niche to drive their business.
Despite eating plenty of Wishek sausage, hauling it to tailgating events, and sharing it with family, friends and colleagues every year, I also wanted to know more about the history and future of Wishek sausage from Deile.
“The origins of Wishek sausage are somewhat shrouded in mystery. I can trace it back as far as 1933. That was the year that John Stroh became the butcher at Herr Mercantile. John taught Jim Klundt the recipe in the fifties and Jim brought it over to the Red Owl store in 1962 when he and Stan went into business together. Jim then taught George Just the recipe when they hired him in 1962 and George is still with us today. I'm not sure if the recipe was John's own recipe or if he was taught by someone else. Back in those days, everyone had their own sausage recipe because everyone butchered their own critters, so Wishek Sausage probably wasn't a big deal until more modern times,” Deile said.
In 1956, Stan started working full time in the grocery business for Herr Mercantile. In 1962 Stan and fellow Herr Merc. employee, Jim Klundt, decided to strike out on their own and bought the Red Owl store from Herb Entzi. In 1972, Stan bought out his business partner and became the sole owner of Stan's Red Owl. The store was located in a 25-foot-wide building that proved to be too small by the late seventies, so in 1978 plans were made to build a new building on the east side of Wishek, population 949, where the store remains today.
In January 1979, Stan's Red Owl opened in its new location with two businesses under one roof: Stan's Red Owl and Jim's Fine Home Furnishing. The business continued to grow and in 1985, Stan bought out Jim's side of the building and expanded the Red Owl store. In 1989, Super Valu, Inc. bought out Red Owl Inc. and as a result of that acquisition, Stan's Red Owl became known as Stan's Super Valu. In 2004 Stan's son, Darren, bought the business and continued to operate it under the Stan's Super Valu banner. In 2019 Darren changed suppliers to SpartanNash and changed the name of the business to Stan's Supermarket.
Growing up in the grocery store business, Darren didn’t dream of returning but ended up growing his career from it. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in history and social science education from North Dakota State University in 1990, he wanted to remain in North Dakota rather than leave for out-of-state job opportunities.
“When I graduated from college, there were literally no teaching jobs to be had in the Midwest. All of the jobs were in California or Texas and I didn't want to leave North Dakota, so I started working at the store.”
Deile’s wife Shelly teaches at the local elementary school and their two children, Jacob and Abby, are now enrolled at NDSU, Jacob in his third year of pharmacy school and Abby in her first year of nursing school. Darren’s father, Stan passed away in 2018 and his mother, Blanche, continues to reside in Wishek.
Demand for Wishek sausage is a daily, year-round business for the small-town grocery store. The scent of smoked meat fills the store.
“We make something every day, so it just depends upon what we are running low on. We ship our sausage during the winter months. We have shipped to every state in the union, except we don't ship to Alaska or Hawaii. Most of our customers call us for shipment.”
I wondered if Darren has plans to expand his business on the popularity and demand of Wishek sausage. He replied, “At my age, I really don't want to expand upon the sausage business. I'm content with running things as they are. 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it.' I'll let the next guy, whoever that may be, worry about that. My son, Jacob, has expressed interest in coming back and taking over. I guess we'll see what happens in the next few years.”
A rural grocery store like Stan’s Supermarket works to overcome an “aging and declining population, fierce competition from big box stores in the larger cities and limited labor pool to draw from,” Deile shared.
To overcome what he cannot control, Deile and his team “try to offer really good service, a clean, nice store, and better quality in the perishable departments.”
“As far as labor, pay as well as you can, offer benefits, and try to create a positive, fun work environment. The sausage is what pays the bills.”
Sausage pays the bills at Stan’s Supermarket, but what makes this sausage unique to have such high demand? The secrets are safe.
“If I told you what makes Wishek sausage unique, I would have to kill you,” Deile said.
We’ll keep buying, sharing, serving and eating the beloved Wishek sausage and cheering on rural, small businesses overcoming economic adversity to succeed in rural America.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.