LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Winter winds whipped to a high pitch here the day before the Super Bowl, but so did deli and bakery sales at Quillin's, officials said.
Most of Quillin's nine units experienced double-digit increases for the big weekend in January, when Wisconsin's Green Bay Packers won football's world championship.
To help whip up some excitement of its own, one Quillin's store here hosted a parking-lot tailgate party, featuring grilled bratwurst. Despite the cold, the outdoor food-service promotion helped that store ring up the company's best deli sales, a jump of 24% over the same period a year ago.
The wind-chill factor was 20 below zero, but that didn't keep Tony Doering, the store's deli-bakery manager, inside. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., he grilled bratwurst just outside the store's entrance, and by 5 p.m. he had sold 600 bratwurst sandwiches.
Bratwursts, or "brats," as they're called here, are German-style sausages that are regional favorites. They're usually served on rye rolls with sauerkraut. Doering served them up with "the works" for $1.00 each, or for $1.50 with a can of soda.
Quillin's offers grilled products in the parking lot during picnic season, but this was the retailer's first winter cookout, Doering told SN.
"We brought the brats inside as I grilled them and kept them on a warmer right inside the door," he said. "The atmosphere was great, a lot of fun. Smoke from the grill would occasionally leak into the store. There was a gray haze over the front of the store and we had a boom box playing Packers' songs."
The "Packer Polka," the "Packer Rap," and the "Pacarena" -- a takeoff on the trendy Latino tune, the "Macarena" -- were playing at top volume, he said.
Associates in all departments were wearing the Packers' colors, green and gold. So were a lot of deli products, including deviled eggs and Jell-O jigglers.
There was also a "correctly colored" salad, made with lemon and spinach pasta, and green and gold potatoes were featured on the hot table.
"We used little canned potatoes," Doering said. "They took up the food coloring quickly and well. People bought it all -- everything that was green and gold."
The item that probably won the most profits was a taco dip tray.
"That one was great," Doering noted. "We spread dip about a half-inch thick on a 12-inch tray, added a layer of salsa, then cheddar cheese, diced green peppers, some tomatoes, and added a dome top. The retail was $12.50 and we sold 35 of them Super Bowl weekend." He added that the margin was about 65% and labor was minimal, because associates used prediced vegetables and preshredded cheese.
All week before the Super Bowl, most Quillin's associates wore Packers' garb, and since Christmas all the stores had been decorated in green and gold, said Nancy Rand, deli supervisor for the company. Then, the day before the Packers' big win, spirit was at a high point, she said.
"Everybody wore green and gold and we had banners and signs and green and gold lights everywhere," Rand said. "Quillin's, like everybody else around here, is Packer crazy," even in towns like La Crosse that are hours away from Green Bay.
"This will give you an idea of what it's like," Rand explained. "Lambeau Stadium [the Packers' home turf] is sold out for every game every year, whether the team has been winning or losing, and its capacity is 67,000. People out here put their babies on a waiting list for tickets for when they get older."
Since the team hadn't made it to the Super Bowl in nearly 30 years, Rand said that as soon as the Packers got in the playoffs, she knew sales would be up nicely -- because everybody was having parties.
"Sales were up all through the playoffs, but they didn't get rip-snortin' till the last week," she added. "We knew we were going to have a great retail week, but it exceeded our expectations."
The bakery departments at Quillin's had even better ring-ups than deli, Rand said. All of them had double-digit jumps, and the same store that hosted the tailgate party had a 56% increase in bakery sales for Super Bowl week. (See related story on Page 41.)