UW Provision: The Meat People

Photo by Eric Tadsen

If you want to go whole hog for your next cookout, fundraiser, or event, a visit to The Meat Market in Middleton or Local Source Food in Sun Prairie is in order. The meat at these two specialty store outlets is from UW Provision in Middleton, which is the same high-quality fresh or frozen meat the wholesaler ships to regional grocery stores and restaurants. It’s convenient to buy in bulk without breaking the bank.

An actual whole hog requires special ordering, but customers will readily find refrigerators and freezer cases filled with beef (steaks, brisket, hamburger, stew meat, roasts, meatballs, and shredded beef), pork (ribs, chops, shoulder roast, ham, bacon, brats, hot dogs, sausage, and shredded pork), seafood (shrimp, cod, haddock, walleye, and catfish), turkey, and chicken. You’ll even find lamb, goat, and rabbit. Same-day or next-day delivery service sets UW Provision apart from the competition.

In addition to the variety of meat, over 100 products are stocked for large events, including rubs, sauces, seasonings, cheese, dairy, soda, wine, beer, chips, condiments, pasta and potato salads, desserts, paper products, and specialty products made in Wisconsin.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

“Many people think a membership is needed to shop at the stores,” says Steve Kalscheur, president of UW Provisions. “It seems to be a big secret that everyone is welcome to shop with us. The stores have different names than the wholesale division, but share the same purpose of providing high-quality meat in bulk quantities.”

The UW Provision story goes back to the late 1940s after Steve’s father, Jim, graduated from high school. Jim worked for Esser’s, a small family-owned wholesale meat business, starting at the bottom delivering meat and learning the business on the job. In those days, there weren’t refrigerated trucks, so Jim would spray the truck with cold water on the outside to cool it down, and cover the pot roast, ground beef, and steaks with blankets to insulate them. The delivery route had to be short and just around Madison. This experience gave Jim the knowledge and confidence needed to begin UW Provision in 1958.

Building upon the success of UW Provision’s wholesale business, expansion into the retail segment came in 1979 with The Meat Market and again in 2016 with Local Source Food. “We chose the name Local Source Food so that when we eventually add online sales, customers from around the region will know they’re getting local food,” says Steve.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Today, UW Provision is one of the largest food distributors and freight services in the Midwest, delivering meat by refrigerated trucks to seven Midwestern states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri.

When Jim heard that UW Meat Market adjacent to the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus was for sale, he seized the opportunity. A newlywed, he used the $1,000 wedding gift money (with his wife’s blessing) and made additional monthly payments to cover the $20,000 starting inventory. Jim kept the name and launched the business that would become UW Provision.

Steve Badalich became Jim’s business partner from 1961 to 1992, and they incorporated as UW Provision to recognize their wholesale business and University Avenue location. When the university wanted their property and started a condemnation proceeding in 1962, UW Provision moved to the larger 1900 Beld Street space. Ron Krantz started with the company in 1965 and became a partner in 1971. He’s still a partner and serves as vice president.

By the early 1970s, UW Provision needed upgraded equipment and more space so they could sell to restaurants and add other food items besides meat. In 1973, they moved to the Middleton business park at 2315 Pleasant View Road and have since expanded the 10,000-square-foot plant 11 times to become one of the biggest in the industry. There’s over 100,000 square feet of USDA inspected space, and they’ve grown to be one of the largest providers of fresh, frozen, and dry-food products in the Midwest. The freezer warehouses combined with their Sun Prairie Cold Storage business holding a $10 million inventory means they always have quality product at great prices to meet customer’s needs. Offering high-quality products at competitive prices is UW Provision’s way of helping keep local grocers in business, and giving restaurants an option to purchase meat that has been properly cut and stored.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Jim’s salesmen became the original telemarketers because Jim couldn’t afford to buy cars and pay for gasoline, a move the company credits for its success. They were the only telemarketers making cold-call sales to restaurants. “All sales are still made over the phone,” says Steve. “We grow our own staff by hiring and training young men whose personalities mesh with our customers. Overall, there are 119 employees providing efficient, friendly, and professional service to sell high-quality products at competitive prices to our customers. Many have worked here for 42 years.”

Steve started with UW Provision when he was 14 years old. At age 16, he worked full-time and received pay. Like his father, he also worked his way up from the bottom to learn everything. By the time he graduated high school in 1981, he was scheduling 70 inbound and 50 outbound semis and selling 250,000 pounds of meat a week. Steve became president in 2009. “I worked alongside my dad through last year, when he was age 89. At age 90, he quit coming to work.”

Jim left a legacy at UW Provision, punctuated by quality service and inventory, convenience, and competitive prices. Since Steve learned so much of what he knows about the industry through his father, expect those qualities to be front and center when you see The Meat People at UW Provision for your next barbeque—that is, if you want it to have some of the best steaks, chops, or walleye this side of the Mason-Dixon (grill master pending).

Lauri Lee is a freelance writer living in Madison.

UW Provision

uwprovision.com

Retail Stores

The Meat Market
2315 Pleasant View Road
Middleton, WI 53562
(608) 836-7400

Local Source Foods
1100 Wilburn Road
Sun Prairie, WI 53590
(608) 662-0660