Tates honored as Grocer of the Year

Jeff and Cindy Tate, left, owners of the Piggly Wiggly stores in Watertown and Waterloo, were recognized at their store in Watertown Tuesday as Grocer of the Year. Surprising the couple with the award was Brandon Schulz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association.

Jeff and Cindy Tate, owners of Watertown and Waterloo Piggly Wiggly stores, were surprised Tuesday morning when family and friends gathered at the Watertown store to recognize them as the state Grocers of the Year.

The Wisconsin Grocers Association is the Wisconsin food industry’s trade association with more than 750 members, and the Grocer of the Year Award is its most prestigious award. Presented annually, the award is given to a WGA member who makes significant contributions to the industry and community. The WGA has been around for 120 years, Schulz said.

In presenting the award, Schulz said, “This recognizes the great job you do. You worked hard to get to where you are today,” he said in the entrance to the store at 1330 Memorial Drive.

More than 35 family, friends and employees were on hand for the award presentation.

The Tates were nominated by Brian Wohlfeil, general manager of the two stores.

“It was hard to keep it a secret,” Wohlfeil said of the award presentation.

Jeff Tate is a member of the committee that selects the top award winner. He did not see the nomination made by Wohlfeil, Schulz said. Nominations are reviewed and rated in several areas, he said.

“This is a highly competitive award. It is hard to get to this point,” Schulz added.

“We are just blown away,” Jeff Tate said upon receipt of a large cardboard cutout of the award.

Sen. John Jagler, R-Watertown, also presented the Tates with a citation from the Wisconsin Senate, recognizing the couple for their 14 years of business built around the employees and the communities.

Watertown Mayor Emily McFarland also recognized the Tates with an award. She thanked the Tates for their dedication to the community.

“This is so well deserved,” she said.

Following those award, Jeff Tate said he was completely speechless.

“This is not just Jeff and Cindy,” Cindy Tate said. “But it is our employees. We have the best employees.”

Jeff, a third-generation grocer, hugged his parents who were seated at the doorway.

The Tate family owned and operated five grocery stores while Jeff was growing up, and thus the grocery business was in his blood. After a couple of jobs away from the business, Jeff was hired as the store manager at Fox Brothers Piggly Wiggly in Oconomowoc in 1997. After working several years and learning how a successful store operates from Bob and Pat Fox, the couple, along with a business partner, built the Watertown Piggly Wiggly in 2007.

In 2008, Jeff and Cindy became sole owners and in 2017, purchased the Piggly Wiggly in Waterloo. They have six children, three of whom served in the military with a combined five active tours of duty, along with four grandchildren.

“Jeff and Cindy are amazing examples of not only success, but also remarkable character,” said Wohlfeil. “Their success has been driven by faith, family, community, and giving back; their focus has never been about money, but the continued success of those around them.”

Over the last 14 years, Jeff and Cindy have donated to countless community organizations and non-profits, with donations ranging from product, money, gift certificates, and their own volunteer time. They believe in investing in the community to help all of those in need, those who protect us, and to help with the education of our future generations.

Jeff and Cindy Tate take pride in their businesses and treat all of their employees like family. Employees and their families enjoy a 5% discount, employees receive birthday gifts, holiday bonuses, and other fun giveaways throughout the year. Jeff and Cindy said they believe in their employees and know the importance and value of empowering employees and providing them the tools to succeed. Employees participate in continued training programs, with several managers participating in the WGA’s Leadership Institute.

Both Jeff and Cindy are exemplary members of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, where Jeff currently serves on the WGA Board of Directors as secretary/treasurer and also chairs the board’s government-affairs committee.

In 2014, Jeff received a WGA Excellence in Operations Award, for which he was recognized for his work ethic, commitment to the grocery industry, and for efforts that positively influenced his store, employees and customers. He and Cindy both take an active role in the political and grassroots efforts of the WGA; Jeff was recognized in 2017 for his outstanding efforts to promote and advocate on behalf of the retail food industry, being awarded the Association’s “Grocers Care Political Action Award.”

A formal award will be given to Jeff and Cindy Tate on Oct. 13 at the Wisconsin Grocer’s Innovation Expo at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay.

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