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On the job: carrying on a 100-year tradition

Joe Vlach.jpg
Joe Vlach opened a meat processing business in Cedar in 1907. In 1956, Leonard and Theresa Mikowski purchased the business and the recipes. The main staples of the era were Polish sausage, ring bologna and hotdogs. Roger and Shelly Mikowski took over the business in 1988 and now operate as Mikowski Corner Store & Meat Market in Interlochen.

At Mikowski’s Meat Market, they expect to process up to 1,000 deer this year. That’s 12,000 pounds of venison.

The owner, Roger Mikowski, has been processing deer his whole life.

“I've been into it since I've been knee high to a grasshopper, if you will,” he says.

This is dangerous work. The grinders, choppers and knives are sharp.

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During deer hunting season from September to December, Lenni Mikowski works 10-hour days skinning and quartering deer. It’s a physically demanding job.

When Roger was eight he got his hand caught in a meat cuber.

“I got drawn in with the meat cuber to want to do this for a living,” he jokes. “It was quite painful. I still remember it as if it was yesterday.”

This business started in 1907 as Vlach’s in Cedar. Roger moved it near Interlochen in 2015. They still use Joe Vlach’s recipes but adjust to keep up with contemporary tastes.

Roger says processing a deer is an art, a skill and a passion.

“Once you learn the bone patterns it usually can be a little bit easier getting stuff off of the bones,” he says. “You just kind of follow like a man shaving if you will.”

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Roger Mikowski, front, and son-in-law Donald Jackson cut venison into steaks, chops and burgers. After the first of the year they’ll begin sausage and jerky preparation.

Everywhere you turn in this corner store and meat market is a family member. Roger Mikowski’s son and son-in-law work for him. Their wives are involved too. Shelly Mikowski is co-owner, accountant and cook. Three grandchildren stock and package products. Roger hopes one of them will eventually be a fourth generation owner.

But in this whole group, there’s not one deer hunter.

“We never had time when we were growing up” says Roger. “We always were processors.”