A Q&A with Tim Metcalfe

The Metcalfe's Market president talks biking, brats and giving back

Portrait by David Corso.What’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had in a grocery store?
This one is easy; it’s how I meet my wife Julie. I got a call that there was a customer at the front desk that wanted to return a bag of lettuce and was demanding to speak to the owner. It was Julie, and at first glance I knew my life as I knew it was over. I did refund her the money, and then I sent her a $25 gift certificate in the mail. The rest is history.

Is there anything you refuse to eat?
Pretty experimental, however not too much of a fan of raw oysters or anything that has the word “brain” attached to it.

What’s your favorite work of art?
Anything from a local Monona artist by the name of Doug Hatch.

It’s 10 a.m. on Saturday. Where are you and what are you doing?
Walking the store in a hoody, totally incognito.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Brat Fest? 
My greatest joy at Brat Fest is watching the young people—the kids wearing the latex gloves that are two or three sizes too big for their hands working as fast as they can to keep up with the customer flow and help out. When I was a kid I volunteered to help my dad raise money for the Lions Club, to help people that could not see. We served roast beef sandwiches and I worked the counter. My greatest joy was being with my dad and doing something that I thought made a difference in the lives of others. Today I run my own little festival, and help others raising money. My joy is in the life lessons of giving back to one cause, and in the hope that these young people see the example of their parents and others giving back to the community that has given so much to them.

What’s your biggest flaw?
If you asked my staff, they would say it’s that I can’t spell the word “no.” There are so many worthwhile causes and things to be part of in Madison, all of which are important and worthy, but we just can’t do them all, even though we try.

Do you live by a motto or catchphrase?
I have a bunch, but my favorite is “eat or be eaten.” In business I really think you only have two choices: you can “eat,” referring to being actively engaged in building your business, connecting with your customers, being innovative and forward thinking, or you can be “eaten,” which speaks to being passive, not engaged, not being a student of your industry and allowing your competition to slowly eat away at your base. In my opinion there is no in-between—you are either eating or someone is slowly eating away at you.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my dad. In my twenties I left the family company to broaden my life experience and went to work for another company. Years later, my dad wanted me to come back and work for him in the grocery business. I told him, “Dad they love me here. I really feel with them I will have a job for the rest of my life.” He said, “Son, you won’t understand this, but it’s time to leave.” I asked, “what are you talking about?” and he said “you’ll figure it out.” Arrrgh! Best advice I have ever been given…

What do you consider a great thrill?
Biking down a thirteener in Colorado at 50 m.p.h. It was fun when I was doing it, but afterward when I really thought about what could have gone horribly wrong, I realized I’d never do that again.

What do you wish you could tell your twenty-year-old self?
Interesting! I don’t know if this was the same for everyone, but when I was twenty I had three questions I wanted answers to: who am I, what will I be, and will I ever get married? If I could go back and tell myself something, I would say “Don’t worry son, you’ll figure it out.”

What’s top on your bucket list?
To finish the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, once and for all.

What would you like your legacy to be?
I have begun to give this some thought, and I wish someone had prompted me earlier in life about the fact that everyone has a legacy. Mine I hope: He touched the lives of others.

Describe yourself in three words.
Driven ‘to a fault,’ Visionary, Giving

What’s your most treasured possession?
A watch given to me by my Dad after he became ill.

What’s surprised you lately?
Winning the Grocery of the Year award, my staff tricked me to come meet Julie in the Artesian Cheeses department where everyone gathered, staff from all three stores where there, family and many friends, totally surprised, and honored

What should everyone try once?
Parachuting! Probably the quickest switch in emotions I’ve ever had—total fear for fifteen seconds, six minutes of complete joy and solitude, three seconds of total fear, then pain.

What will you never do again?
Go down a class 5 rapids not in the raft.

What’s most needed to do your job?
”pa-tience”, quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.

Catch Metcalfe at The World’s Largest Brat Fest, May 24–27 at Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center. The event, which is produced by Metcalfe’s Market, has raised more than $1 million dollars for charity since it began in 1983. 

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