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Penguin Meats marks major milestone

All in the family for longtime Semiahmoo Peninsula business owners
For 50 years

It’s long been a family affair at Penguin Meats in White Rock.

Run by four generations of the Michaluk family, Penguin Meats was first established by brothers Vic and Walt Michaluk and father Terry in October 1964 in Whalley, before moving to White Rock, at 1554 Johnston Rd., where it has flourished over the years.

This Saturday, the store will mark 50 years with a celebration at the retail store recognizing their longstanding staff and loyal customers.

The meat shop, with the signature green awning, is where Vic and wife, Irene, raised their children, including Toni, who has worked at the shop since she was a young girl.

It was there that Toni met Doug Charles, while in high school. They’ve been married for 38 years.

“He was working (there) after school,” Irene explained. “Doug went to school in White Rock and at that time, we lived in North Surrey, and that’s where Toni went to school.”

Decades later, Penguin is now where Toni’s sons, Ryan and Brody, work – in the Langley warehouse and the retail office, respectively.

The meat shop had humble beginnings, Vic said, when it was just himself, his father and his brother running a country grocery store or milking cows on the family farm where Nicowynd Golf Course is now located.

“My dad bought the farm because the Korean War had just started up, and if the Korean War was anything like Second World War or the First World War was – because he was in both – he knew the only people who had everything they needed was farmers,” he said. “The only thing they needed was sugar and coffee, the rest they had. And the sugar was used to make moonshine – very important stuff.”

Buying milking cows, however, was expensive in 1952, with one cow costing upwards of $700. Then, when they became too old to milk, the cows were sold for a fraction of that amount.

“So (my dad) said, ‘well, I know I can make better if I can make it into a sausage,’ so he bought a meat shop,” Vic laughed. “It was difficult at that time, because we were on a shoestring.

“He had a number of businesses, but his passion was food from the old country – Ukraine. A lot of the things they used to do over there, they brought with him.”

Soon, Vic’s father was introduced to two brothers who ran Penguin Delivery, and seeing the potential, invested.

However, a series of events led to Vic’s father breaking off the partnership.

“So he told them to pay him back or he’d take the property, and he ended up with the property, which he sold to Safeway (in Whalley),” Vic said.

During that transition, Vic continued to work as a pedal-truck driver for Penguin Delivery, until his father approached him with a new offer.

After acquiring a property in White Rock through a business transaction, he was hoping to open a meat shop across the street where cement bricks were being put up, and he wanted his sons to run it with him.

“I said, well, we’re doing quite well, I don’t think I want to do something like that,” Vic said. “But then he asked, what would happen if I broke my leg? Would Irene go out and look after the customers?”

“I might have,” Irene laughed.

And with that, Penguin Meats was established on what was then King George Highway.

In 1972, Vic bought out his brother, and a year later, his father.

“But (dad) still hung around. On the weekend he was the collector, ‘til the day he passed away in 1983,” Toni said.

“He was actually looking at another meat-delivery endeavour,” Vic added, laughing.

Over the decades, while food trends have changed, the team at Penguin Meats has stayed the same for the most part, with staffers spending decades serving customers or working in the warehouse.

“We’ve had our ups and downs with the economy, but we still persevered,” Irene said.

“I keep preaching to my grandchildren, people need to eat. If you look after them, they’ll always come back,” Vic added.

Taking care of their customers has extended to caring for their community, with Irene noting that many times staff have played the role of directory when the phone rings with inquiries about nearby shops.

“They may not know the name of the store, but they know we’ll know,” Irene laughed.

The family also supports local sports, including minor baseball and minor hockey, as well as the Surrey Eagles.

“We do what we can. And we want to thank everyone in the community for supporting us,” Irene said.