The Wedge’s Meat and Seafood department is kind of a big deal. It was the first meat department in America to be
certified organic. And every day the people behind the counter keep carrying forward that torch of excellence, bringing
locally raised, sustainable, humane choices to our owners. Manager Aaron Nytroe has been here 17 years, since the
department’s beginning. Here we ask him and Assistant Manager Andrew Silbernagel five questions about how the Wedge
continues to change the landscape for conscientious omnivores in the Twin Cities.
How did you come to work at the Wedge’s Meat & Seafood department?
Andrew: I started working here part-time while I was in college, getting a sociology degree at the
University of Minnesota. I lived a few blocks away and I really felt at home shopping here. I didn’t know anyone in
Minneapolis, and I thought working at the Wedge would be a good opportunity to have a few hundred friends. It’s become
my whole social network; over the years, I’ve lived with some of the guys from our department. People have come and
gone, but we’re really a family.
Aaron: I had just graduated from St. Cloud State with an art degree, and a friend of mine said “Come to Minneapolis and
we’ll draw at coffee shops together and after a year we can go to New York to be artists there.” I had nothing else to
do so I did that. I moved a block away from the Wedge, I walked in and they were hiring for Meat & Seafood. It’s
the only job after college I applied for and I haven’t looked back.
Having been in the department for so long, what are some of the changes you’ve seen to the meat
Aaron: The biggest change is how the interest in local has driven the marketplace in a really positive way.
Ten years ago, it was terribly unsophisticated at the farmer level, in terms of getting product to retail stores.
But they’ve come a long way in meeting a demand for local that’s
still growing today.
And what role has the Wedge played in creating a local alternative to industrially
Aaron: With many of our local farmers, their growth has really been linked to our own. I’ll bet if
you were to graph them, they would match up. This is maybe best told through the Kadejan story. They’re our
local chicken vendor. I actually remember them from being a kid in West Central Minnesota. My dad owned a
slaughterhouse, and he had an employee who wanted to sell chickens. Kadejan supplied them with a few frozen
ones-that was all they could do at the time given their processing capacity. I had kind of forgotten about them
until I wound up at the Wedge, where we bought and relied on them going back 18 years, as long as the department
has been here. Now they have grown their farm and have a smoke house and are in the process of milling their own
GMO-free feed. I feel really lucky to have been part of developing that demand and providing a retail space for
small producers like them.
Andrew: It really is all about those vendor relationships. We’ve worked with John at Ferndale to
support their new products and give them an outlet for trying new things. Roger from Many Pastures has been in
here with test batches of his alpaca jerky, which we’ve helped him develop because he
values our input. They wind up with a product that sells well because it’s something our customers want. It’s
really cool to have that autonomy to make those decisions and rewarding be a part of the local food system in that way.
So is it difficult for new farmers to break into the Wedge’s Meat & Seafood department?
Aaron: It is. Once we’ve developed a relationship with someone, there’s no reason to bring in someone new to
replace them. To me, it’s more honorable to stick with those farmers and producers who have been a success story
for us. But we have added some new local products recently: Gerhardt’s brats and Red Table meats, which people are
very excited about.
Andrew: Yeah, if I’m hearing about some kind of product or service that our customers want, we will go to great
lengths to make that happen. Customer desires have informed tremendously the things we carry.
So can customers expect any new products or services with the remodel?
Aaron: Absolutely, the fundamental change is that we’ll be custom slicing everything. That’s
going to be a game changer. With full-service slicing, we can have more charcuterie and deli meats like smoked ham
and roasted turkey. It’s really going to open up a lot of doors for vendors. Right now, it’s hard for them because
we only sell individually packaged sliced meats. But by allowing them to sell in bulk, we’ll remove those barriers
and hopefully be able to bring on more local farmers.
Andrew: We’re always looking to give prime real estate to local vendors. It’s cheaper and easier to just carry
Applegate lunch meat, but they’re owned by Hormel. And we’d rather seek out local
producers, like getting in some Wild Idea bison pastrami. We don’t want to just do what’s easy, we want to carry
unique products and support farmers we believe in.