LACROSSE, Wis. -- At just one store, on one day, Quillin's dished up enough hot, corned beef to turn any retailer green with envy.
The family-owned Quillin's, whose mascot is Quinn the Leprechaun, expects to sell a lot of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, but not more than 300 pounds of it, all in a few hours.
"We were extremely pleased with sales this year. Last year we sold almost as much, but it was stretched out over the whole weekend. This year, it was just one day, and a Monday at that. So you might say we sold twice as much as last year, certainly it was a record for one day," said Tony Doering, senior deli manager, at the nine-unit, upscale independent.
Doering explained that since St. Patrick's Day fell on Sunday last year, the company decided to offer corned beef and cabbage dinners on Saturday as well as Sunday because it feared customers wouldn't come in on a Sunday for their annual fix of the traditional dinner.
The fact that St. Patrick's Day fell on Monday this year was perfect, Doering said. It gave people a chance to brighten up their first day back to work after the weekend with a celebratory lunch or a dinner to take home, he said.
A couple of state office buildings lie just two blocks away. Two large hospitals and several car dealerships, too, are no more than five minutes away. So, not surprisingly, the bulk of sales came at lunchtime. In fact, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. customers lined up at the service hot table, waiting to get their corned beef and cabbage.
"People are out and about on Monday, and it gave us a real boost -- St. Patrick's Day falling on that day. Mondays are usually pretty quiet for us."
For more than two weeks prior to the holiday, Quillin's ran a sizable block in its ad circular announcing that it would be serving St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage dinners from its hot table for $3.99. Adorned with clusters of shamrocks, the 4-by-5-inch block was an eye-catcher. The Quillin's leprechaun mascot lounged across the top of the ad. A blown-up, cut-out of Quinn in-store, too, beckoned customers to the hot table.
At $3.99, the dinners were retailed at the same price as other homey favorites such as meatloaf and lasagna and batter-fried fish, and the mark-up was "decent, just fine," Doering said.
The corned beef dinner included -- in addition to the meat, thick-sliced -- boiled cabbage, white potatoes and a dinner roll. Doering said sales of the hot dinners have grown a little each year but really got a renewed kick start when Quillin's decided to begin using a fully cooked product instead of cooking from raw product in-store.
"That was a few years ago and that's definitely what has grown those sales. It gives us consistency from store-to-store and we don't have to worry any longer about selling out. Previously, we had to have things pretty much planned out, and if we ran out, that was it. Now, if we see it's flying we can put some more in the oven and in an hour and a half we've replenished the table. It's a Hormel product, a whole big brisket, not chunk and form," Doering said.
He explained that corned beef lends itself well to reheating without drying out or altering the texture.
"There's naturally a little fat in there that keeps it moist. You wouldn't know it's been pre-cooked."
In addition to such impressive sales at the hot table, the cold deli sliced 350 pounds of deli-style corned beef in the week preceding St. Patrick's day. There, about two-thirds of it was sold by the pound and the rest in sandwiches. Altogether, total deli sales climbed nearly 6% over the same period last year, with officials citing the holiday promotions as the key reason.
Every year for the past few years, Quillin's with the help of major suppliers, has given away a trip to Ireland to lucky customers in a pre-St. Patrick's Day drawing. This year, it did the same and generated a round of local publicity. But, in addition this year, the company added a lengthy list of Irish imports that will stay year-round. They include some "excellent" jams, Doering said.
"This is the first year we've brought in a whole line of imported, Irish foods. We're able to feature some really neat Irish products [throughout the store]. For instance, we picked up a fantastic line of jams and preserves that we're able to offer at an affordable price -- $3 for a 12-ounce jar. The quality is just great," Doering said.
Irish oatmeal and a line of Irish dried soups are others added this month. They join a roster of Irish Swiss and Dubliners cheeses which the deli has carried for years.
While Doering didn't say so, the new Irish imports, as well as a plan to enliven Quinn the Leprechaun, may have strategic importance in the face of the impending arrival of a Wal-Mart Supercenter close by.
"We do expect our [Irish] niche to help us out when Wal-Mart moves in here in the fall," Doering said.