Chow Down In Milwaukee

Restaurant Reviews

Krautland at State Fair

In terms of both fun and culinary variety the Wisconsin State Fair is by far my favorite location. Inside its fences you can find nearly any type of cuisine your heart desires. From sweet to savory it would seem whatever you are craving is merely a stand away. After attending the fair for 43 years straight a lot of these stands seem to get lost in a swirl of ambiguity. A lot of the stands seem to offer very similar food with only slight variations. Greasy burgers, deep fried desserts and the carbonated beverage of your choice. With only the briefest of commitments to employment and often briefer if not any training customer service can fail to be a priority.

One stand sets itself apart by doing the exact opposite. Krautland has been a part of the Wisconsin State Fair since 1962 when a pancake vendor purchased the stand for his daughter Ruth in 1962. It remained under the same ownership until a fateful day in 2004 when current owner Ron Schurman received a call letting him know there was a stand up for sale and he had an hour to decide on whether to purchase it or not. Ron immediately called his wife Karla who was on the road for work. In a wonderful example of what makes their 38-year marriage work so well, Karla responded that it was up to him. As Ron told me “60 seconds later it was done.”  

Although today they run one of the most popular stands in the park, it did not come without some initial challenge. In their first day in business as owners they would face a challenge that would not only put their business to the test, but their love as well. One hour after opening on their very first day they received a phone call to let them know Karla’s mother had passed away. As brand-new owners to the Wisconsin State Fair this presented them with some very unenviable position. In a testament to what kind of people Ron and Karla are, the response was quick and overwhelming. Friends, other stand owners and the State Fair itself pitched in to help. The Schurmans were told to take care of family and let their friends worry about the first few days of the stand. When they returned a few days later Ron told me the business was just as they left it and their love for each other was stronger than ever.

Family and friends are a very important part of the Krautland story. Ron and Karla’s children have held various positions at the stand. Karla and Ron not only have a marriage that works extremely well but they apply the same tools to both run Krautland. When pressed on what exactly those details are they both agreed it was working to their strengths. Karla was quick to point out how well they compliment each other. “Ron handles the front end of the business and I had everything back here.” She told me.  

An experience at Krautland is enjoyable in every facet from front to back. I personally can recall coming here with my Grandfather at least once every year. In an ever-changing world when people are constantly looking for the next new thing, how can a place stay competitive and relevant for nearly 60 years? That is exactly the question I put forth. The answer, Ron told me, can be found in the details. From the 80 hours they spend cleaning and preparing each of their stands (They also own Firehouse Chicken two stands down) to the accent they place on customer service, nothing is overlooked at Krautland.  

Ron and Karla apply extremely high standards to every aspect of their business. This is apparent on every visit. When you come to place an order instead of the usual indifference, you are greeted in a way that makes you feel welcome. Items are politely explained, and you never feel rushed. Something not often experienced in a festival setting. What keeps people coming back for decades is the delicious selection of food. This begins in January of each year. Working with suppliers and selecting only the finest of each item they serve. From something as simple as the ketchup to the use of Frank’s sauerkraut because it has been tested and proven to be a customer favorite.  

Krautland serves a selection of food and beverages. One of my favorites is the Polish sausage. It has a crispy skin that is never tough but has a snappy quality when you bite into it. You can taste the freshness of the sausage while you appreciate the old-world flavor. Finding yourself visiting a place named Krautland, it would be a mistake not to top this with sauerkraut. The flavor of the sauerkraut is mild enough to add the perfect compliment to whatever you choose to pair it with. There are also some great choices on sides. Their most popular selling item is the deep friend green beans, a perfect example. Flavorful green beans lightly breaded and deep fried are served with a delicious tangy dipping sauce. The beans have a slightly crunchy texture and hold onto the breading quite well.

Although this may be the crowd favorite, my personal favorite is the jalapeño corn bites. Spicy nuggets of corn and cheese are battered and deep fried and again paired with their delicious secret sauce. Once bitten they almost melt in your mouth. The spice is enough to let you know it is there but is still safe for all but the most sensitive palate.  

Once you have chosen your delicious food, you can have your choice of beverages which include Bacardi cocktails, slushies in a variety of flavors or the ever-popular soft drink. Enjoying your meal in the enclosed patio is another feature that makes Krautland a favorite of not only fair goers, but fair employees as well. Open enough to allow for some enjoyable people watching, it is very difficult to see in from the outside. This is great for dining in peace or just enjoying some shade on a hot day. Ron and Karla even told me of a family who routinely meet there year after year for their yearly family reunion.

After an extensive remodel to their kitchen so they are better able to serve their customers, I had to ask what is next for the stand. Once again, the reply is what separates this establishment from every other one in the park. Instead of chasing the next new thing, Krautland will be sticking to what it does best. Providing everyone who comes to both the Wisconsin State Fair as well as Harvest Fair at the end of September, a place they can go where they can count on being served the highest quality of food with great customer service in an enjoyable atmosphere. It appears serving something delicious and high quality at Krautland is far more important than serving something new. If you have a winning formula there is no reason to change it. Ron and Karla will continue to work hard to maintain the highest quality when it comes to food, beverages, customer service and customer satisfaction.


By: Neil Panosian


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