Stop in at a tavern up north and it will most likely have a pickled food item on the bar top. Most of the time, the wide jars are filled with cloudy liquid and floating shiny white eggs, almost creating a lava-lamp effect. Sometimes there’s pickled sausages; sometimes there might even be pickled turkey gizzards.
For five generations, Reinhard Liebner’s family has manufactured a large portion of the pickled offerings found in watering holes – and grocery stores, liquor stores, convenience stores and bait shops – across the state.
The business, called Bay View Packing, was formed in 1923 by brothers William, Walter and Bruno Liebner. Located in Menomonee Falls, the company was named after the view from the brothers' first office and has no relationship to Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood.
Initially, Bay View pickled sauerkraut, herrings, pigs feet and pickles. Back then, these were staple items – not specialty foods or appetizers as they are now. Few people had a refrigerator, so pickled products were particularly popular.
Today, only the herring – all of which is Grade A – remains one of the company’s offerings and comes in three different styles. One is made with a sweet and sour brine that includes a splash of wine and fresh onions. Another is packed in sour cream. "Rollmops" are also available, which are herring filets wrapped around a spiced, dill pickle and held together with a toothpick.
Bay View’s other pickled products include smoked Polish sausages, hot Polish sausages, pork hocks, pickled turkey gizzards and three types of pickled eggs: vinegar, garlic and onion and red hot – called "evil eggs" when eaten with hot mustard.
The pork hocks are the biggest seller, according to Liebner.
"It’s hard for people to duplicate these the way we slice, trim and pack them. This is a product where our quality really shines through," he says.
Bay View items are available at many local bars including Wolski's, McKiernan's and The Corner Tap in Wauwatosa as well as grocery stores including Sendik’s, Woodman's and Festival Foods. They range in price from about $3 to $8, depending on the jar size and the food item.
Bay View's 5,000-square foot manufacturing facility employs eight people. Liebner’s eldest son is already on board with the business and he hopes his second son, who will start college this fall, will run the business with his brother after he graduates.
Liebner started helping out at Bay View by labeling and capping jars when he was six years old. He started working full time in 1986 and became the president of the company, replacing his father, in 1990.
Pickled products are more popular in rural areas than urban areas, Liebner says. They are particularly popular with campers, hunters and snowmobilers.
"The type of people who like our stuff are mostly outdoorsy, rural-type people," he says. "For many, it’s a generational thing. They are used to seeing them around their whole lives."
Bay View is not automated by choice and has always valued humans trimming and packing the jars instead of machines.
"We haven’t changed how things are done throughout the course of our history," he says.
Liebner says his family’s business has been around for so many decades because they are committed to quality.
"We take a lot of pride in our work and have very high standards. There isn’t anyone out there doing it the way we do. We’re constantly tasting and trying to make sure the quality is where we want it to be."
One aspect of business that has changed is that the workers no longer boil and peel the eggs on-site anymore. Because Bay View needs 800 dozen eggs every week, it took one or two entire work days just to shell the eggs which wasn't time or cost effective.
If the egg was damaged in any way during the shelling process, it had to be discarded. Or consumed.
"I’ve eaten a lot of boiled eggs over the years," says Leibner.
Is he sick of his pickled products?
"I really don’t get tired of it," says Leibner. "I eat the product just about every day. My family and I like to snowmobile up north and we usually bring some Polish or hocks when we go."
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.