In 1983, in an effort to thank the customers of his family-owned and operated grocery store, Tom Metcalfe (1935 – 2006) and his wife, Margaret (1935-2017), created a modest brat fry with a table, three chairs and a Weber grill. They cooked up brats and sold them for 50¢; people soon flocked to the store every Memorial Day weekend for a taste of the Wisconsin staple.
As word of mouth grew, so did people’s appetites eventually creating so much demand for the juicy bratwursts that Tom & Margaret Metcalfe needed to find help. Having a strong foundation and belief in community, Tom decided to donate the brat proceeds to the organizations whose members volunteered to serve the mouth-watering sausages.
In 1999 Tom asked his current Brat supplier, after selling 35,000 Brats at that Memorial Day Brat Tent event, if they felt that was a lot? They replied “well, that’s more than Oktoberfest , more than Brat Days and, more than County Stadium… we think you’re the World’s Largest Brat Fest”, and the name was born.
Tom, along with his two sons, Tim and Kevin, began to count. Each year, they kept counting and in 2004, the Fest set a new (self proclaimed) world record when they sold a whopping 189,432 brats in the parking lot right out in front of the Hilldale store.
After 2004, it became evident that the Fest had outgrown its humble beginnings at Hilldale and needed to look for a new home. In 2005 the World’s Largest Brat Fest moved to Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center to better accommodate the growing crowds eager to continue the tradition. Willow Island proved to be a great fit, and the World’s Largest Brat Fest was voted “Best Outdoor Festival” by Madison.com readers in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Johnsonville came on board as the official brat of Brat Fest in 2001. In 2006 Johnsonville became a major sponsor and started donating 150,000 brats. Over the years Johnsonville strengthened its relationship with the Fest and all the good things it does for the community, and in 2011 they decided to donate “all” brats at Brat Fest. Johnsonville continues to donate a significant amount of brats to the event each year!!
Thanks to Tom & Margaret Metcalfe, who started Brat Fest in an effort to cele”brat”e and thank their customers. Because of this and the City of Madison’s declaration, Madison is now known as the Brat Capital of the World! Since 1983, the number of brats that have been enjoyed is in the millions, including a World Record of 209,376 brats in 2010.
Brat Fest has raised more than $1,900,000 for local charities!