Festivals keep Belgium corn roasting business cooking

This is a busy season for a family business that satisfies the appetites for a quintessential summer treat at events throughout the area

CORN ROASTER JIM SCHUELLER stood beside his company’s truck, which transports corn and his roasters to corporate picnics and weddings throughout southeastern Wisconsin. His roaster can cook about 1,000 ears of corn an hour. Photos by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

As outdoor festivities come into full swing this summer, Jim Schueller of Belgium is roasting up bushels of corn for hungry patrons.

“I think corn is something you associate with festivals and picnics,” Schueller said. “Obviously, you can’t get roasted corn in the middle of the winter.”

When Schueller first heard of corn roasting, he wasn’t sure if it would be a successful business. Thirty-two years later, Schueller Corn Roasting has become a staple at many events in southeastern Wisconsin.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to work,” Schueller said. “Since we were growing it anyway, we thought we would have a good supply that’s good quality so we decided to try roasting.”

Based in Belgium, the family roasting business got its start when his father Kenneth grew corn.

Schueller started in the business with his father and brother Pete. After his father died in 1996, Schueller took sole ownership of the company in 2000.  

His brother still helps and Schueller’s sister Mary also lends a hand when she’s not busy at her job.

“It’s still a family business,” Schueller said.

Schueller’s farm at 7119 Six Mile Rd. stopped producing corn in 1996, and he grew squash for Piggly Wiggly until 2016.

Today, he gets corn from Georgia and Indiana until Wisconsin corn is ready for harvest by the end of July.

“When we’re in Wisconsin, you can really only get corn for four to six weeks,” he said.

The business used to serve at a number of popular festivals in Milwaukee and Sheboygan as well as Fish Day in Port Washington. Schueller said public events can be risky because of the weather, so he primarily does corporate picnics and some weddings.

“If it’s really hot, people don’t eat much corn. It’s really weather dependent. Heat is actually worse than rain because if it’s hot, people don’t really go to events,” he said. “Festivals were pretty risky and they weren’t very profitable.”

On average, the company roasts about 3,000 ears of corn per event. Big corporate events for companies like Aurora Health Care and Quad/Graphics can turn out approximately 9,000 ears of corn. The business does about 25 events during the summer and a few during fall.

“We’re pretty spread out, doing events from Racine to Sheboygan, Hartford, Oshkosh and we do a lot of events at the Milwaukee County Zoo,” Schueller said.

Because of the number of events in Milwaukee, he has a dedicated crew stationed in the city so they don’t have to commute back and forth from Belgium.

In addition to corn, Schueller also provides baked potatoes, which he gets from Idaho.

“Wisconsin potatoes don’t really come in until August when we’re almost done,” he said. “Potatoes are pretty economical. We realized, as long as we’re doing corn, you can make baked potatoes in the same machine, so we added that.”

The corn roaster machine was built and designed in Delavan by inventor Lloyd Foote.

“He’s a very interesting person to meet. He lost his eyesight when he was 35. When I first met him, he could not see at all but he was still making the corn roasters,” Scheuller said, noting he has six roasters that were created by Foote and manufactured in Wisconsin.

The biggest machine turns out about 1,000 ears of corn an hour and the newest roaster takes 16 minutes per cycle. In the event a corn roaster breaks down at a big event, Schueller brings a back up.

“We’ve had a lot of breakdowns because the corn roasters are pretty high maintenance,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult trying to repair the roaster at the event.”

Schueller has about 20 part-time employees. Many of them have been working for him since they were in high school.

“For most of the people I hire it’s their first job, which is pretty cool watching them grow up. My first employees started when they were in their teens and now they’re 45, married and have families,” he said.

A number of the employees are retirees or teachers, who want to help out after school is closed for the summer, Schueller said.

Schueller said the corn-roasting business is a niche market and he has only one competitor who is selling his business in Waterford.

Schueller, 62, said he doesn’t plan on selling his company anytime soon, but is considering retirement in five years. He said he has heard some interest in the company from a couple employees.

“It’s a lot of hours, and when you get older, you don’t really enjoy it anymore,” Schueller said, laughing. “Over the years, I’ve met a lot of nice and interesting people. There’s no better way to celebrate summer in Wisconsin than by eating roasted corn at a picnic.”

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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