By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Cooking brats is serious business just ask Tom Ollig and Gary Lenz, two of the original Winsted Bratbusters.
“It’s all in the way you handle the tongs to turn them,” Lenz said. “We turn with panache.”
“We’ve had a lot of wannabe Bratbusters over the years, but some of them couldn’t hack it, and we had to let them go,” Ollig added.
For those who may not be familiar with the legendary Bratbusters event, here’s how it works people go out to Mill Reserve Park (by Winsted Lake) to enjoy an evening of good food, music, and activities with hundreds of their friends and neighbors.
This year’s Bratbusters will take place between 4 and 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, as a kickoff to the Winsted Summer Festival.
The Bratbusters tradition began in 1988, after Lenz and Ollig had been drinking coffee at Keg’s Bar, thinking of ways to attract people to Winsted’s annual Crazy Days sidewalk sale.
Somehow, they came up with the idea to serve brats in town, thinking that their “effusive personalities would attract people,” Lenz recalled, admitting, however, that it’s possible they may have the opposite effect.
Their first year, the group made a grand entrance with a limo and red carpet, donning chef hats and aprons, snapping tongs in a synchronized fashion.
“We hired kids with boom boxes to play ‘Ghostbusters,’ and had them shout ‘Bratbusters,’” Ollig said.
They only made about 50 brats that year, but fame ensued as time went on and about 900 were sold in 2012, with proceeds benefiting the Winsted’s Summer Festival and the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to Ollig and Lenz, the two other Bratbusters are Dave Sherman and Floyd Sneer. Honorary chefs include Jeff Campbell, Tim Dahl, Chip Guggemos, and Chris Schultz.
Throughout the years, the Bratbusters haven’t been shy about entertaining their customers. In 1992, for instance, they arrived handcuffed in the back of a police car; and in 1993, they rode in an ambulance, complete with bandaged limbs.
“One year, we were in a pontoon, shooting off bottle rockets,” Ollig recalled.
And in 1997, they dressed as Martians.
In 25 years, Lenz said his only disappointment about Bratbusters is that it never led to any film or modeling contracts.
When asked about their plans for this year, a convertible serving as a “one-car parade” was mentioned, and possibly some plastic hot dog giveaways.
“When we get to the grill site, our ardent female admirers will have an opportunity to buy us beer,” Lenz said, admitting that no one has taken him up on this in 25 years.
In addition to seeing the Bratbusters in person (they are happy to sign autographs), visitors will be able to enjoy music by The Papa Shaw Band, a canoe race, a children’s treasure hunt, and fireworks at dusk.
“I think Gary and I have always tried to make Winsted special, to do things other communities haven’t thought up,” Ollig said. “Hopefully we’ve influenced some young Winstonians to think outside the box.”