Foxes bring grocery store savvy to Port

The owners of seven markets, including one in Saukville, are investing experience, money in Piggly Wiggly set to open in former Sentry store later this summer

THE SENTRY NAME has been stripped from the facade at the grocery store space in the North Port Shopping Center in Port Washington, where Pat and Lori Fox are opening a Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly. The interior of the store has been largely gutted (inset photo), and contractors are busy working to create what will essentially be a new market in time for a planned Aug. 8 opening. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

If you drive past the North Port Shopping Center on Port Washington’s north side, you can see the first hints that a new grocery store is taking shape. The word “Sentry” has been removed from the building facade, and contractors’ vehicles are parked outside.

“When all is said and done, it’s going to be a new store inside,” said Pat Fox, president of Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly, which is planning to open its second area store in the center on Wednesday, Aug. 8 — just in time for the chain’s 30th anniversary.

The interior of the former Sentry store has been largely gutted. The retail space will be slightly smaller than the 47,000 square feet the Sentry store had, but everything from the flooring to the lighting and fixtures will be new, Fox said.

The lone holdover will be one of the meat cases, he said.

The new store will include a fresh seafood area and an expanded liquor section, he said, as well as Fox Bros. award-winning bratwurst, sausage and beef stick products, something the company has been making for the past decade. The line was sparked by Dean Rindahl, who Fox described as “a very passionate foodie” who suggested making the sausage in 2007.

“Every year, our sales grow. That’s how I know they’re good,” said Fox. 

The company makes about 8,000 pounds of brats a week during the summer months.

Fox Bros. also carries its own line of salads and cheeses, he said, and is experimenting with its own popped popcorn line.

The Port store will also carry certified Angus beef, as well as Smithfield prime pork and Amish chicken, lines Fox said are premium

For Port residents, news that Piggly Wiggly is opening is a welcome event. When Joe and Santo Sanfilippo announced they would be retiring and closing the Port market last fall, it sent the city into a tailspin as residents and officials pondered the idea of a community of 11,000 people without a grocery store.

“Piggly Wiggly was very intent on having a store here,” Fox said. “The question was if it was going to be us or somebody else running it.”

It only made sense, he said, for Fox Bros. to open the store. Fox Bros. owns and operates the Saukville Piggly Wiggly, and having two stores so close together operated by different entities competing against one another isn’t practical.

But when Piggly Wiggly Midwest, which owns the Port shopping center, approached him with the idea of operating the Port store, it took a little time to say yes.

“The initial response was, do we really want to do this (open a new store) again?” Fox’s wife Lori, the company’s vice president, said.

“But now, it’s exciting. We’re excited to be here.”

The Port store will be the eighth for Fox Bros., which also has stores in Saukville, Hartland, Oconomowoc, Richfield, Jackson, Slinger and Hartford.

Pat Fox has spent his adult life in the grocery business — always with Piggly Wiggly — beginning after he completed his first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He started at the Piggly Wiggly store in Plymouth, then became the assistant manager at the Port Washington Piggly Wiggly from 1976 to 1980 at what is today the Port Harbor Center.

“This is coming back home for me,” Fox said. “I have a lot of fond memories of Port Washington.”

He went on to manage Piggly Wiggly stores in Madison and Milwaukee before heading to Hartland, where he worked at a struggling store run by Max and Morris Zitzer. Morris had died, Fox said, and Max was running the store but was getting older.

Piggly Wiggly approached him with the opportunity to manage the store for Max with the chance to buy the business, Fox said, and in 1986 he purchased the market.

“I soon realized there was opportunity,” he said.

At a family wedding, he and his brother Bob, who was managing a Sheboygan meat market, talked about the idea of working together. In June 1988, they opened a new Hartland store together and Fox Bros. was born.

The store was a success and spurred the brothers to expand. They bought the Oconomowoc Piggly Wiggly in 1997, then built a new store there and expanded their Hartland store in 2005.

Bob retired in 2006, and in 2010, Pat bought his share of the business. 

In 2011, Pat agreed to purchase four Piggly Wiggly stores run by Hansen’s, including the Saukville store, and asked his wife Lori, who he had met as a customer at the Hartland store, to join the business.

Lori, who had been self-employed in the education and child abuse prevention fields, agreed under one condition.

“I told him, ‘I’ve never had a boss. I’m not going to start now. We’re partners,’” she said.

It’s a partnership that’s worked well, the couple agreed.

“She brought a lot to the business because she wasn’t in it previously,” Pat said. “She looked at things more from a customer perspective.”

In 2014, Piggly Wiggly Midwest approached the couple about taking over the Country Market in Hartford in a situation Pat said is similar to Port Washington.

“We had to tear everything out and start over. That’s worked out pretty well,” he said. 

Along the way, the couple have remodeled their Richfield and Jackson stores and moved the Saukville store across Highway 33 into the former Pick ‘n Save grocery building — a task they accomplished by closing the old store at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday and reopening at 6 a.m. on a Wednesday.

“It was crazy,” Lori said.

Last year, the couple made one large change internally, converting Fox Bros. into an employee-owned business.

It’s something he and his brother had looked at years ago,” Pat said, and something that seemed “like the best course for our business.”

“It rewards the team members who made you successful,” he said. “The most important resource we have are our team members — they make it happen, not me, not her.”

Employees must be vested to obtain shares, which are allocated based on their longevity and service, Pat said.

The change in ownership also forced them to look at a succession plan as they ease toward retirement, he said.

Employee ownership also helps bring home the message that customer service is the main product they have to offer, the couple said.

“You have to have super service,” Lori said.

“There are a lot of places people can go to buy their food,” Pat added. “You have to take care of people.”

Quality products, especially those offered on the perimeter of a grocery store — the meats and seafood, dairy, produce and specialty items — are also important, along with price and variety, he said.

“The middle of the store are things you can buy anywhere,” he said. 

The grocery business is competitive, Fox said, and online markets may be a thing today, but he believes there will always be a place for a local grocery store.

 “Food is kind of a personal thing,” he said. “Do you really want someone else picking out your food?”


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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