ROGERS CITY - After 100 years in business, the third generation to run Plath's Meats in Rogers City called the store's longevity a blessing.
"Our family's been very blessed, everything we have has been a gift from God and this gift has just been unbelievable," John Plath said.
Famous for its bacon and smoked pork loin, Plath's also sells ring bologna, hot dogs and smoked fish, John said. The store's been in Rogers City since 1913, when Emil Plath Sr. opened it. It was a hit from the start, and continues to be popular both locally and elsewhere.
Now, as John and brother James' children start to "dabble" in working at the store, the two brothers reflected on how they got involved with the family business. They also offered their thoughts on what makes Plath's a Rogers City institution.
For John, getting into the family business was a matter of timing, he said. He had worked on Great Lakes freighters, but the work all but dried up in the 1980s when the United States steel market took a big hit.
"I only had 60, 30 days of work with a family to feed," he said. "My dad needed extra help, so here I am."
Economic downturns would play another hand in the creation of Plath's Petoskey location, James said. His brother, Mark, had been working in the construction industry until he got laid off a little more than three years ago.
"He kind of twisted our arm about opening another place over there," he said "In the midst of a recession, we thought, let's go for it."
James started in the 1970s after his father asked him to help with the business, he said. His father wanted someone in the family to help with the business. At the time, the store still had groceries, and James and his four brothers all helped out as kids keeping the shelves stocked.
"In this era, everybody had a corner market, and we were one of those that sold everything," he said.
After Mr. Ed's IGA expanded, and Glen's came into town, the Plaths decided to stick with meat, James said. They couldn't compete with the bigger grocery stores, so they focused on a product they knew well.
Brother Tim said he has worked at the store most of his life. He spent some time away serving on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, but returned and has worked there ever since.
Over the years, the store has expanded, both in size and by adding computer-controlled smokehouses, James said. Plath's has been lucky enough to serve generations of customers, and by shipping to restaurants throughout northern Michigan, it can introduce even more people to its meats.
"All of our products have their own unique flavor that no one can match," he said. "We use all our grandfather's recipes that we've tweaked over the years and, I'd like to think, perfected."
It's working; the store gets customers who tell the Plaths they drove more than 40 miles from I-75 and will drive all the way back, then head further north, James said. Some even say if they don't pick up meat from Plath's before they head to their family gatherings, they'll be in trouble.
"We're serving friends and family something different they can't get anywhere else," John said.