Port meat market becomes O’Bernie’s for a day

Bernie’s Fine Meats isn’t a sandwich shop but for St. Patrick’s Day it turns out Reubens by the hundreds to satisfy customers who wait a year for the treat

STEVE BENNETT, owner of Bernie’s Fine Meats in Port Washington, held just a small sample of the 450 pounds of corned beef the meat market sells for St. Patrick’s Day. Store manager Chris Dieringer (below) showed off a Reuben sandwich headed to the grill. Photos by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Judging by the number of people who flocked to Bernie’s Fine Meats in downtown Port Washington for Reuben sandwiches on Friday, March 17, the market should have been named O’Bernie’s — at least for the day.

“I think one year we did put that on the door,” store manager Chris Dieringer said.

Bernie’s, which is well known for its sausages and meats, is perhaps equally well known for its St. Patrick’s Day meals of Reuben sandwiches and Irish stew.

The Irish meals have become a local tradition developed over more than 10 years.

It started simply enough as owner Steve Bennett looked for a way to amp up sales during Port’s slow season — after the Christmas holiday and before the busy summer tourist season.

“You have to find ways to make money when it’s scarce,” he said. “So you think outside the box. We’re not a sandwich place. Bernie’s never did anything big with corned beef before.

“This is just a fun thing, a different thing for us.”

This year, Bernie’s served more than 300 sandwiches on Thursday and Friday. Between sales of corned beef and the sandwiches, Bennett said, they went though roughly 450 pounds of meat.

The first couple years, Dieringer said, there were long lines of customers waiting to buy sandwiches. So the shop began taking pre-orders, with pickup slated every 15 minutes.

They still handle walk-up customers, but the vast majority of people order in advance.

When asked what makes their Reubens special, the answer comes quickly: It’s the meat.

“We use our barrel-brined brisket,” Bennett said. “It’s choice brisket. It’s a lean cut. We slow roast that meat until it’s perfect.”

And, Dieringer noted, “We slice it so it’s nice and tender.”

The sandwiches feature a special, thick-cut marble rye bread they order just for St. Patrick’s Day and a made-from-scratch sauce.

“It’s not Thousand Island dressing; it’s Bernie’s dressing,” Bennett said.

Customers have requested that they offer the sandwiches more often, but Bennett said that isn’t in the plans.

“We’re never going to do sandwiches,” he said. “We have wonderful restaurants in town. This is a one-time deal each year.”

This is a busy year for Bennett, who will complete his 18th year as owner of Bernie’s on April 1.

That’s because Bernie’s is in the midst of an expansion project as Bennett works to create a European-style market in the front 20 feet of the neighboring space formerly occupied by Anchor Men’s Wear.

A European-style market specializes in carrying local fare, Bennett said. In his case, he wants to handle items made by Wisconsin-based companies as well as some imported from Europe.

The market is something Bennett hopes to have up and running by fall.

“It’s going very well under the circumstances,” he said.

Bennett said he has already created a doorway connecting the Bernie’s and Anchor Men’s Wear spaces, but the rest of the work is being held up as he waits for his second smokehouse to arrive.

The smokehouse was supposed to arrive at the end of February but is now scheduled for late March. He hasn’t had that timeframe confirmed, Bennett said, so he’s hoping that the smokehouse will arrive right after Easter.

The smokehouse, which will be set up in the back room of the building, has to be brought in through the front window, which means he can’t do much in terms of renovations until after it’s set up, Bennett said.

“I’m really excited about this expansion,” Bennett said, noting it will allow the business to better serve customers and facilitate production of his products since he will be working out of the main floor of the building rather than in the basement.

“I couldn’t do this without the great staff I have,” he added, especially his “solid core” staff of Dean and Chris Dieringer and Luke Gaskell. “If I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. They make this place move and they make the expansion possible.”



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Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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