Bio: Gurtner, Al – Ray's Market (2019)
Surnames: Gurtner, Wiedenhoeft
Source: Tribune/Record/Gleaner (Abbotsford, WI) 17 Jul 2019
Ray’s Market owner Al Gurtner has brought a taste of his family’s Swiss heritage to Colby.
Customers keep returning to his old world sausage store to purchase the mouthwatering famous summer sausage and Landjaeger hand flattened snack sticks, among several other popular items he sells.
The Ray’s Market building, named after Al’s late father Ray Gurtner, who started the business on Jan. 7, 1971, in nearby Unity, was constructed to look like a Swiss chalet located at H3590 Elderberry Road and visible to motorists on STH 29.
It is evident Al is passionate about owning and operating Ray’s Market, so he can keep his family’s long tradition of Swiss recipes for cooking sausage going well into the future.
Al could just simply leave these sausage casings round, but he is honoring his family’s Swiss tradition of hand flattening them. He explained the tenuous process of flattening the Landjaeger snack sticks his customers love to eat.
“It takes six employees three hours to flatten by hand 200 pounds of meat for the Swiss Landjaeger snack sticks,” Al said recently inside his store. “Customers tell me my sausage tastes like the smoked sausage they ate while growing up on their parent’s farms, because our store is one of only three commercial meat markets in Wisconsin to first use an electric smoker and then finish cooking our sausage in a traditional concrete block smokehouse.”
Al’s parents, Ray and Janet, moved from Rubicon in southeast Wisconsin to Unity so they could own and operate their own meat market. They purchased Gib’s Market from owner Gib Wiedenhoeft in Unity, and Ray’s Market also housed a grocery store until the early 1980s. Ray and Janet lived above the store.
“There was a big blizzard on the Friday before my parents were going to open the store, and the food delivery drivers then couldn’t come to Unity until Monday,” Al said. “Local residents volunteered to help my parents stock the store shelves when the delivery trucks finally arrived in Unity.”
Al grew up stocking shelves and working the register in the store; he began cooking all the sausage in 1996. When his father died on July 7, 2007, Al quit his construction job to take over to take over the meat market. His mother, Janet, who was a retired teacher, came aboard as a full-time shopkeeper.
A fire destroyed Ray’s Market in Unity on March 3, 2009. Al and his wife, Connie, purchased land near STH 29 in Colby so Al could build a new meat market. He opened Ray’s Market in Colby in November of 2009, and it includes two pieces of equipment, an old cooker and a mixer, that survived the fi re in Unity.
Ray’s Market now sells several different meats, 150 flavors of Wisconsin cheese, local jams and jellies, and beer and wine among many other local products.
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