Published On: Sat, Aug 23rd, 2008

Merkel Keeps On Cooking

HARTINGTON — It’s a small building hidden from view, but always bustling with activity.
Throughout the week, Roger Merkel is busily working on preparing to serve 400 people different entrees.
Merkel is the owner of Merkel’s Catering, a catering company that he says mostly caters to weddings.
“I can do up to three on a weekend,” Roger Merkel said. “They get pretty tough in the heat.”

One of the major benefits of this business for Merkel isn’t the taste of his own home cooking, but rather the time spent away from the business.
“For 30 years I never got to go home at noon for dinner,” he said. “Now I do.”
Merkel owned the Chief in downtown Hartington for much of that time. That’s where he got the well-deserved reputation for quality food.
Once he finishes his work, Merkel is also an avid fisherman.
“I fish up at Lewis and Clark,” he said.
Riding across the water on his 17-foot boat beats out his hours of work in the kitchen.
“One day for the meat, one day for the salad,” Merkel said. “I usually start on Tuesday, and work till Friday when I clean up and cross the t’s and dot the i’s.”

For when he cooks the meat, he likes to start in the morning before his building gets hot.

“Today I cooked for three-and-a-half hours making 150 pounds of turkey,” he said.
Merkel grew up in Menominee and after graduating from Crofton High School, he joined the service.  After coming back 40 years ago, Merkel began work at the Chief Bar.
In 1996, he sold the bar and started the business that caters more to his style.
“I had really become a chef,” he said of working at the bar. “I thought it would be a good opportunity.”
Merkel’s business has grown since he first devoted his full-time attention to it and said business was busier than he expected — taking away from his fishing time.
The one-man operation keeps Merkel busy, but he likes the time.
“It’s fun,” he said. “The weddings get pretty fun.”