Ralph F. "RF" Stayer, a founder of Johnsonville Sausage, died in Naples, Florida, on Monday, according to news reports. The business, which is now run by Stayer's son RC, has been celebrated in recent years by Inc. magazine and others for its democratic management style. (See here and here.)
The company is privately-owned, and the largest sausage company in the country, based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Stayer started it with $1,500 in seed capital.
Following Stayer's death, the company released a statement celebrating its founder's life: "The definition of success, RF Stayer proved that the American dream is real and not just a story told to encourage enterprise. His keen eye for opportunity, paired with a strong work ethic and dedication to his craft, grew RF from a poor boy to an accomplished man. A man not only defined by his accomplishments, but also by those he loved and those he helped."
According to the Sheboygan Press, "Stayer found his golden opportunity in a trash barrel. Shortly after he and a partner bought a small butcher shop in Johnsonville in 1945, Stayer noticed that guests at area fundraisers were throwing away their bratwurst half-eaten."
This was a sign that the market had not yet delivered a quality product to the masses. "After Stayer had his eureka moment, he worked for months to create the perfect bratwurst recipe," the newspaper continues. "He knew he had found it when a loyal customer, who had always bought 30 pounds of hamburger and 5 pounds of brats for his events, switched to 30 pounds of bratwurst and 5 pounds of hamburger."