Meat and greet: Raffle traditions yield laughs, create community

Each spin of the meat raffle paddle wheel produces another winner, a scene that plays out in multiple locations across Mille Lacs County each week. Pictured left to right are Greg Johnson, John Haugen and Becky Haugen at the Foreston Liquor Store Thursday-night meat raffle Feb. 16. Debbie Griffin photo

Each spin of the meat raffle paddle wheel produces another winner, a scene that plays out in multiple locations across Mille Lacs County each week. Pictured left to right are Greg Johnson, John Haugen and Becky Haugen at the Foreston Liquor Store Thursday-night meat raffle Feb. 16. Debbie Griffin photo

Foreston Liquor Store patrons began shouting, “Meat hog! Meat hog!,” at Deb Mishler Feb. 16, but the taunts just made her grin more as she sauntered up to claim her second meat-raffle prize of the night.
Mishler was visiting her daughter for the weekend, and the two had come to the every-Thursday Foreston meat raffle where together they claimed a total of three prize packages of meat. She and most patrons share the sentiment about meat raffles: What’s not to love? They’re fun and can yield protein that’s practically free.
Most meat-raffle tickets cost $1, and they work well for bars because they generate business and good times. The wheels of meat spin weekly at several area places including VFW and American Legion halls. It generally works about the same way in each place: Patrons buy their $1 ticket and when all 30 spots on the paddle wheel have been sold, the click-click sound of the spinning wheel quiets the din as everyone listens for the winning number.
The term ‘meat hog’ applies in most places but not always under the same terms. People are a meat hog in Foreston if they win more than one round in a night. However, at the Long Siding Bar and Grill, a patron must win three rounds of meat raffle before they’re dubbed a meat hog and presented a complimentary bandana that says so.
Foreston Liquor Store
Manager Becky Haugen coordinates the Foreston meat raffles and Mary Longfield is her predecessor; Longfield said the raffles have been happening there since before 1999. Former Fire Chief Frank Ryan took the initiative to get a charitable-gambling license for the Foreston Fire Relief Association, and it was then that the liquor store began selling pull tabs, holding meat raffles and hosting bingo games.
Longfield said, “Most people know what night is the meat raffle and what night is bingo.”
Haugen said the bar plays 10 rounds of meat raffle. Eight of those rounds are worth $20 packs while two of them win a $40 pack of meat, and a few of the rounds yield a gift card instead of meat cuts. The most recent raffle included a mix of New York strip steaks, sausage, chicken, country-style ribs, pork chops, ground beef and ribeye steaks prepared by Teal’s Market.
Haugen said people are usually happy with the meat selection as they come to choose a package, but asked if there is a favorite she said, “People seem to like ground beef, they get excited about it.”
Bar patrons say meat raffle is a fun game they enjoy. Mark Thorseakken said it’s a good cause he likes to support plus he appreciates the chance to win cheap meat. He had invited his in-laws along for the Thursday meat raffle.
Haugen and Longfield said most nights are pretty packed while others are slow. Attendance depends on the weather and other activities that may be happening in the area. Foreston Liquor Store holds its meat raffles 6:30 p.m. each Thursday from Labor Day until Memorial Day.
Shooter’s Sports Bar
Manager of Shooter’s in Princeton, Jenna Benson, said the weekly meat raffle there happens 4 p.m. each Sunday except in June, July and August. She said the events draw a lot of regulars and some occasional customers.
The raffle at Shooters normally goes for 10 rounds, tickets cost $1 each, and the prizes are $20 meat packages prepared by Princeton Meats.
“It’s all just kind of a variety,” she said, and it might consist of breakfast meats, steaks, pork chops and other combinations.
Benson said winners don’t seem particularly drawn to one cut of meat over another, they are just excited about winning something. She’s managed the bar for the past 10 years and said it started meat raffles probably eight years ago as a way to generate activity and draw customers.
She said it’s “just a fun thing to do” and people can visit, have a drink and eat some food while they do it. Meat raffle is also not a game that people have to reserve a lot of time to do. Most of them take an hour or two, and players can stay for the whole time and play every round or just buy numbers for a few rounds. It is easy, enjoyable and people don’t have to stay out late for it.
Benson agrees that the meat raffle is a quintessential Minnesota tradition – as well as in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states – but it’s not a huge money maker. Shooter’s runs its meat raffle off the charitable-gambling license of the Princeton Youth Hockey Association. People are happy to support a worthy local cause, and winners appreciate getting meat for $1.
“That’s the thing, too,” Benson said, “it’s a great deal.”

Long Siding Bar and Grill
Manager Gracie Smith at Long Siding Bar and Grill said meat raffles have been a year-round tradition there at 6 p.m. Wednesday nights for about 11 years. Long Siding operates its games under the charitable-gambling license of the Mystic Riders Snowmobile Club based in Princeton.
She organizes them and said if it’s a slow night, she runs 12 rounds; if it’s a busy night, 16 rounds. She said sometimes the raffles are so busy, she’ll do a double round. Smith said the bar used to offer meat packs as prizes but now gives winners $20 gift cards to Princeton Meats.
“And then they can pick out and buy whatever they want,” she said.
The gift cards work out well because Smith does not have to pick up the meat or worry about keeping it cold before, during and after the raffle. In the past, there had been forgotten meat in the refrigerator and occasional complaints about the meat-pack selection.
Smith said people ask all the time to buy a meat hog bandana, but she insists that the only way to get one is to win three meat-raffle rounds on the same night. The manager adds extra fun with free tickets for drawings of minor prizes known as all-American luscious doo-dads. They’re small, useable trinkets from Milaca Unclaimed Freight, dollar stores and other places and they’re stored in a big, red container.
Most regulars know the routine and sometimes signal that it’s doo-dads time by exclaiming together, “the stuff in the red bucket!” If no kids are in the bar, sometimes the word stuff gets switched to an expletive. Smith said the silly games are just another way to enhance the meat-raffle entertainment and encourage a sense of community.
“They just love it,” she said, “they have fun with it.”

 

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