100 years, 1 ton of bacon, 1 family: Plath’s Meats in Rogers City, MI

The church bells were ringing noon when I pulled up in front of Plath’s Meats in Rogers City, MI on a Saturday. There were parking spaces in front. No meters. Only a few cars passed as I made my way into the lair of the Sausage King, according to Traverse Magazine food editor Emily Betz Tyra’s article from many years ago. “It’s a lot quieter on this side,” smiled John Plath, the third generation to cut meat for Plath’s. He meant on the Huron side of Northern Michigan versus the Lake Michigan side. It is quieter and even on a Saturday, I could get main street parking without any trouble. 

The store walls were papered in congratulatory newspaper articles. “Plath’s turns 75!” “Plath’s 95th Anniversary!” And then I noted the window graphics and the t-shirts. I was standing in Plath’s at it’s 100th year. 

I was picking up an English cut pot roast for our weekend menu, but I also had an order from home to get a pound of bacon. And I added some hard salami, thinking that my daughter would love snacking on it. 

Bacon. John and I talked about the trend for putting bacon in everything: chocolate bars, guacamole, cole slaw, grilled on any cut of meat and of course every kind of sandwich, egg dish or as a breakfast side . Plath’s delivers bacon and other meats to restaurants along the Western half of Northern Michigan as far north as St. Ignace, including Grand Hotel and all the restaurants on Mackinac Island. Boyne City, Boyne Highlands. They opened a new store in Petoskey. “Right as the recession hit,” muttered John, “but it’s still open!” 

Thoughts about the recession inspired us to talk about the need to change and grow with the marketplace and he talked about the hey day of Rogers City, when the plant employed 500 people, there were ships in and out of the harbor every day and 5 or 6 meat shops competed with Plath’s. His family used to flash freeze beef and fruits for rural residents, keeping their stash in a frozen, locked drawer that made me think of bank safety deposit boxes. Indeed, the marketplace had certainly changed in a century. And I thought about what this store had seen since 1913 … the roaring twenties and the stock market crash … both world wars … the civil rights movement … depressions, recessions … impeachments … kids, college, grandkids … And throughout all that time, Plath’s Meats had participated in parades, supplied family reunions, barbecues and Christmas dinners, swept up the shop at night and raised three generations of butchers. Some how cutting bacon had survived it all. 

I looked down at the 1.13 pounds of bacon I had in my hand. It was valuable enough to tempt me away from the beach, a good 20 minutes drive one-way and then gingerly transport back to Suttons Bay where I’d be a hero to my hubby. 

“Yeah, bacon is pretty popular stuff, nowadays,” smiled John. “We cut a ton of bacon every day in summer.”

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