It comes as no surprise that a 55-year-old family business emphasizes product quality and customer service. But it is Lake Geneva Country Meats’ undeniable ‘cool’ factor that draws loyal customers from Kenosha to Chicago to the store’s location just a few miles east of downtown Lake Geneva at 5907 WI 50.
“We keep relevant and moving on,” says Kathy Vorpagel, who owns the shop with her husband Scott.
From its beginning as a butcher shop that offered custom slaughtering and deer processing, the retail shop now houses a meat and seafood counter, a robust cheese selection, handmade deli salads, fresh local produce, a bakery, a selection of seasonings, local and international beers, as well as an extensive wine selection.
Keeping pace with customer preferences began with Kathy’s parents, John and Rita Leahy.
John, a Korean War veteran, worked as a grocery store butcher before buying the Host Brothers Meat Market in 1965. Working out of a small barn, John wanted to provide his customers with quality meat, top-notch service and good value. Rita helped run the store, doing everything from answering the phone to keeping the books.
According to Kathy, after a 1967 move into a building on what had been Leahy farmland for over 150 years, her dad was soon handling “50 or 60 head of cattle a week.”
The store expanded from 3,800 to 7,600 square feet between 1967 and 1976, with the addition of retail items, and sausage making, which has earned Lake Geneva Country Meats hundreds of wins in state and national competitions over the past 20 years.
Today the operation encompasses 15,000 square feet and employs 47 full and part-time workers, but quality meat remains the cornerstone.
“A good meat doesn’t need a marinade,” Kathy says with a laugh, quoting John Leahy’s personal motto.
The butcher shop’s main products— beef, pork, lamb, poultry and buffalo—come from farms in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. Among the most popular items are ground beef and beef tenderloin.
“The filets just fly out of here,” Kathy says.
The store creates 33 flavors of brats and sausages that range from apple to Szechwan to taco, and include seven varieties of chicken brats. Over the course of five days prior to last Christmas, the shop’s deli sold 2,000 of its anchor product: their famous twice-baked potatoes.
Each generation has brought something new to Lake Geneva Country Meats. After John Leahy’s death in 1997, his daughter Kathy left her job as a library bookkeeper to “go full-scale” into the store, bringing along husband Scott who, after 20 years working as a chemist, became the store’s president and CEO.
Kathy saw that the trend was moving away from buying sides of beef for the home freezer, to picking up smaller cuts of meat for that
evening’s dinner. She began to consider what else would appeal to customers.
“I wanted them to be able to get their vegetables and a bottle of wine [here],” Kathy says.
When Kathy and Scott’s son Nick, who possesses a strong wine palate, got involved, the wine selection graduated to a new level.
On the shelf in front of each wine variety, Nick places a mini-review that includes taste notes, ideas for food pairings, and even where the wine tastes best— on the patio or in front of a fire, for example. On the shop’s website, he posts a weekly meal plan with recipes. Nick, along with Bridget Leech, the store’s marketing and events manager, host a weekly podcast featuring conversation, dinner and drinks.
While some of the events that Leech manages had to be cancelled in 2020, the store hosted a “Gaze and Graze” dinner under the stars in late August and a Craft Brew Open Golf Outing at Lake Lawn Resort in September. When conditions permit, other events, including holiday wine tasting, will return.
At the heart of Lake Geneva Country Meats’ success is the Leahys’ legacy of hard work and always treating the customer right, Kathy says.
“My dad would sell the last turkey and bring home a rump roast for Thanksgiving,” she says with a smile.