On West Lakelawn Place, right off of Langdon Street, a building dips in the middle from three stories to only one in what may seem like a questionable architectural decision to the untrained eye. Wedged between the two halves of CHT Apartments at 228 Langdon St., this structural plateau has no distinguishing features from the rest of the edifice. It has the same light-washed brick, the same roofing and the same red on its door that the building has on its window shutters.
The only apparent difference is an A-frame sidewalk sign out front reading, “MacTaggart’s Market & Deli.” Inside, a staircase leads down to the basement-level, where various products line the walls and shelves. Though the entrance may seem ominous, the shop’s atmosphere is anything but.
Julie, one of the staff members who requested to be identified only by her first name, refers to MacTaggart’s — commonly known as ‘Tagg’s’ — as “the best-known hidden secret on campus.”
Located at 230 W. Lakelawn Pl., Tagg’s is a small store and deli that sells groceries, produce and convenience items. It has become a popular spot for University of Wisconsin students and local residents alike, though Rick Schober, the current owner and manager, said students comprise the majority of the customer base. Schober estimated the daily customer flow at Tagg’s to be between 800 and 1000 customers, plus another 200 to 300 on Friday and Saturday nights when the store stays open until 3 a.m.
A shop first opened in this space in 1974, but it was simply called “The Store” until Tim Taggart bought it out of bankruptcy in 1985 and retitled it in homage to his original Scottish family name, Schober said.
From plungers to Pedialyte to made-to-order sandwiches, Tagg’s sells just about everything. On the rare occasion they don’t have something a customer is looking for, it can usually be found and stocked within 24 hours, according to the store’s website.
“It’s all about convenience,” Schober said. “It’s a neighborhood store, and a lot of people only walk here to get what they need … I tell people, ‘if I don’t have it, and you need it or want it, I’ll get it for you.’”
Putting the customer’s satisfaction above all else is a prevailing theme at Tagg’s, where the staff is known to greet people as soon as they enter and converse with them as they purchase items or wait for food.
Schober teaches all of his employees to create a welcoming environment for their patrons, and he is “phenomenal” when it comes to setting this example by treating the entire staff with respect, Julie said.
“The way I look at it is we’ve kind of got two strikes against us. You’re walking down into a sketchy little basement to get here … and we’re not the cheapest game in town,” Schober said. “To offset that and to make it kind of like the underground market, you’ve got to be nice.”
But who are the staffers that make Tagg’s what it is today? More importantly, what do they put on their deli sandwiches? Here are some of the friendly faces behind the counter who turn your neighborhood convenience store into something more than just a market.
Rick Schober, Owner and Manager
Soon after his 21st birthday, Schober bought Tagg’s from Taggart back in 1991 with Kenneth Kaiser, who is both his partner and husband. Though Schober is now in the store every day — either on the floor, in the stockroom, at his desk or doing anything that needs to get done — it didn’t always used to be this way.
After about ten years of co-running Tagg’s, Schober and Kaiser decided to pursue a couple of other businesses as well. A legislation change allowed people outside of banks to own ATMs, and the pair decided to purchase one of their own for the store.
They later placed and operated another one in what is now known as The Red Zone and started receiving monthly payments from the bar’s owner. This was only the beginning.
“Before you know it, we were running like 20 ATMs downtown,” Schober said while reclining in his chair and tapping a vape pen on his desk.
Though Schober and Kaiser eventually sold their ATMs, they still own and operate the one at Tagg’s.
Their other side job included weapon certification and bulletproof vests. Around the same time as their ATM endeavor, the two became involved with cash management for banks, and before long, they were running an armored car company.
They sold the business around the turn of the century and went to work for their buyers, whose armored car division Schober and Kaiser expanded. While gaining control of six armored cars that he drove back and forth between banks and the Federal Reserve, Schober was still involved in the daily books and operations at Tagg’s, but the manager at the time ran the store.
After making some money and spending a lot of time on the road, however, Schober and Kaiser decided to step on the brakes and return to their original business venture.
“Tagg’s has always been our rock,” Schober said.
While Schober was running his other companies with Kaiser, Tagg’s got rid of its deli, which turned out to be a “huge mistake,” Schober said.
Around 2003, the deli returned and expanded, adding fresh ingredients, Boar’s Head meats and cheeses and breakfast sandwiches, which are now one of Tagg’s’ “claims to fame,” Schober said.
“You might as well be nice to people. You’re not going to get anywhere if you’re mean to them, and it’s worked.”Rick Schober
Though the two started a real estate business back in 2015, which Kaiser currently runs, Tagg’s remains Schober’s main focus. He said it has taken him these past 16 years, especially the last five to 10, to turn Tagg’s into what it is now. He admitted to making a few mistakes in his past because of how young he was when he bought the store, but Schober feels fortunate to be where he is today.
“I’ve had jobs throughout my life, and every time I had a job that I hated, I was always like, ‘If I was ever the one calling the shots, I would never do that, and I would never do this,’ and so what MacTaggart’s is is just kind of a culmination of my life and my philosophies,” Schober said. “You might as well be nice to people. You’re not going to get anywhere if you’re mean to them, and it’s worked.”
Sandwich Order: Jalapeño cheese wrap, havarti cheese, bacon, EverRoast chicken, onions, pickles, mayonnaise.
Karen Enciso, Counter/Deli/Stock
Before she began working at Tagg’s, Karen Enciso started out as a loyal customer. She lived two blocks away and said she would always come in for the breakfast sandwiches and free popcorn.
Enciso used to work as a hotel housekeeper in Madison before getting fired for — wait for it — dying her hair blue.
Thankfully, Tagg’s doesn’t discriminate based on hair color, or anything else, for that matter.
Now, Enciso is an all-around staff member who works the cash register on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. She initially felt nervous about assuming this position because she worried her English wouldn’t be strong enough, since she had lived in Mexico for her entire life before moving to the U.S. in 2012 and then to Madison in 2015.
Schober dismissed her concerns and ensured her she would be just fine. Sure enough, he was right.
“This is my third year, and I’ve been really growing because now I’m like, ‘Hey, what’s up? What can I get you?’ instead of ‘Hey. Hello,’ and that feels good, really good,” Enciso said.
In addition to expanding her language skills since coming to the U.S., Enciso has also expanded her family. She met a man, got married and is now the mother of a 2-year-old child.
Except for the end of her third trimester, Enciso worked full-time at Tagg’s throughout her pregnancy. Schober was very understanding when she became too tired to work late nights at month seven or eight, and her co-workers always insisted on helping her with various tasks, especially when it involved reaching for items, Enciso said.
Enciso does not believe she would have received the same degree of support and kindness at any other job. In fact, she said she had never before experienced a working environment like the one at Tagg’s.
“How do we create the bond? I think it’s because this is not like a corporation, so I guess … we feel like we are taking care of each other in a way,” Enciso said. “Some other places, it’s just very hierarchical … but here it’s like you can speak to everybody in the same [way].”
Though Enciso has created her own family here, her parents still live in Mexico City, and she has not seen them since leaving more than six years ago. Enciso lived with them until she moved to the U.S., so she said she took for granted just how much she was able to be with them.
Now, she talks to her parents every day and said they have become her “confidants.” Until they are able to reconvene, Enciso is working more to help them out and “sending good vibes” that they will see each other soon.
As for her fellow Tagg’s staffers, Enciso said they make a point to express their support and ask about any progress she has made on plans to reunite.
“They’re with me in this process too.”
Breakfast Sandwich Order: Croissant, crispy bacon, grilled onions, two slices of three-pepper colby jack, three slices of smoked gouda, jalapeños, pickles, chipotle sauce, ketchup.
Charles “Chuck” Sigmund, Assistant Manager
Chuck Sigmund first began working at Tagg’s while attending UW, and since starting out at minimum wage, he has worked his way up to an assistant manager position. A self-described “cinephile,” Sigmund was also working as the Film Program Assistant at the Chazen Museum of Art when he interviewed at Tagg’s.
Because of his appreciation for film, Sigmund said his job at the museum, where everything was on 35 millimeter film, was right up his alley. Right now, he’s into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and although Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is his top drama pick, Sigmund can’t pick an overall favorite.
“It’s an unanswerable question,” he said. “I like the big blockbuster epics … so like ‘Avatar,’ ‘Watchmen,’ ‘Titanic.’ All bigger-than-life movies I really love.”
Though Sigmund is originally from Elkhorn, after graduating from UW in 2014 with a degree in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, he decided to stick around in Madison and at Tagg’s.
With his 5-year job anniversary right around the corner, Sigmund said he aims to lighten Schober’s load by helping out with morning prep work and becoming better trained on how to manage the store.
“Hopefully I’ll take a little off his plate because I don’t remember the last time he had a day off,” Sigmund said.
Aside from working with Schober, who Sigmund said is by far the best boss he has ever had, his favorite part about his job is the store’s rapport with its customers, which differs from other competitors in the area, he said. Residents of 228 Langdon St. can, and regularly do, come downstairs for breakfast in their pajamas without needing to venture outside, which Sigmund believes CHT Apartments is very happy to have as a selling point.
Even if they aren’t lucky enough to live above Tagg’s, patrons — both when intoxicated and sober — come in often enough to form bonds with the staff.
“Drunk people fall down the stairs, but for the most part they’re fine. They get up, and we brush them off,” Sigmund said. “We always tease them the next day when they come in … we just give them a little bit of shit for it, and I think that’s something that’s great about this dynamic here, is that it’s a chill place where you can get away with that kind of a relationship with your customers.”
Though Sigmund believes Tagg’s’ connection to its regulars sets it apart from other stores, this is not his first time working in a similar atmosphere where the employees are able to have fun with their customers.
While still in college, he was a bellman for the summer at a resort back in Elkhorn where many of the same families returned each year.
“It was a huge property, so we ran around with golf carts,” Sigmund said. “If you wanted to have some fun with the guests, you’d hop in the fast one … and just be like, ‘Hold on, kids.’”
Once in a while, Sigmund will return home to spend a weekend with his mom. Even though he has been at Tagg’s for several years, she has never seen the store firsthand, which he hopes to change soon.
Apart from the occasional trip back to his hometown, Sigmund tends to stay in Madison, where he finds both the Tagg’s community and the rest of the city to be more accepting.
“[Tagg’s is] very, very welcoming towards anybody,” Sigmund said. “I’m gay, [Schober]’s gay, we’ve got three trans employees. It’s a very inclusive store, which I really like … I grew up in small-town, conservative Wisconsin. There’s a reason I don’t go back very often.”
Sandwich Order: Sun dried tomato basil wrap, mozzarella, honey maple ham, cucumbers, red peppers, onions, a little lettuce, pickles, fiery chipotle sauce, barbecue sauce.
Cameron Davis, Counter/Deli/Stock
Cameron Davis is another UW alum and customer-turned-staffer. She started at Tagg’s around the end of last January, but this is by no means her only job.
In 2013, Davis began working at the UW Service Center, where she conducted research for governmental and academic bodies before being promoted to a shift leader one or two years ago. She also used to run a business through Amazon’s Merchants site — and don’t forget about her record label.
“I have the bad habit of starting projects, so I wanted a place to put all my music, and it seemed like the best way to do it,” Davis said.
Most of Davis’ clients consist of friends whose music she likes and will then promote online. Progressive metal is the label’s dominant genre, but it has been branching out to pop and punk as well.
With her Amazon business drawing to a close, Davis decided to look for new income at Tagg’s, where she went almost every day anyway for food. Davis came in with some experience in the service industry already after working at a questionable Chinese food restaurant in 2012.
“That was the worst job I’ve ever had in my entire life. The ownership switched three times in the six months that I worked there. It was a total shit show … Yeah, that job truly was awful. There was very poor management, the staff was treated like garbage, bad time,” Davis said. “This place is much better.”
In contrast, Davis said the level of communication at Tagg’s contributes significantly to its healthy work environment. Employees jump from one job to the next to accommodate the flow of work, all the while ensuring that all positions are covered, Davis said.
The shared stress of working when an influx of people arrives is something that bonds the staff members, Davis said, especially when drunk customers are causing a “ruckus.”
“I once saw a man come in and perform a Richard Pryor stand up set in line for a solid five to 10 minutes,” Davis said. “It would have been funnier if I hadn’t been waiting in line behind him, but that was definitely a show, for sure.”
Sandwich Order: Wheat wrap, roast beef, havarti, smoked cheddar, ranch, barbecue sauce, chipotle gourmaise, lots of pickles, onions.
Jackson Griepp, Deli/Stock
Jackson Griepp, a Madison native and graduate of Madison Area Technical College, is one of the newer staffers at Tagg’s. He started part-time in November, and given his six-foot, seven-inch stature, he has already proven to be an asset in the stockroom.
As a 228 Langdon St. resident, Griepp’s commute to work is rather short. Though he now spends both his working hours and his money at Tagg’s, he didn’t know it existed until about a month after moving in when he kept noticing people walk up the W. Lakelawn Place alleyway with food and other items.
Griepp has had a couple of different jobs over the past few years, but Tagg’s is definitely unlike any place he has worked, he said. At Tagg’s, Griepp has befriended his coworkers and feels like they can rely on one another if need be.
“Like 2015 to now, I’ve been hopping [from] job to job, trying to figure out what I’m best at and … kind of struggling to be honest because I have a panic disorder and ADHD,” Griepp said. “That combination is really tough — always been tough with school and stuff — but right now I’m just trying to save up for more school and to live, basically.”
Griepp, who is currently working on transitioning to a full-time position, feels the staff accepts him. Because of Tagg’s’ diverse community, Griepp said he has been able to meet a range of people and has enjoyed learning about how each of them live.
The group has managed to balance hard work, collaboration and enjoyment, he said. As for how exactly they create a welcoming environment for their customers, Griepp boiled it down to one piece of advice.
“Just don’t be a dick to everybody,” he said.
Breakfast Sandwich Order: Everything bagel, two sausage patties, bacon, American cheese, grilled onion, mushrooms, peppers, pepperhouse gourmaise, avocado.
Todd Ingraham, Counter/Deli/Stock
Between his lip piercings, tattoos and nose ring, Todd Ingraham stands out from behind the counter. His trademark steampunk goggles, though, which he originally purchased from his mother’s costume shop, are currently out of commission and awaiting repair.
Ingraham started modifying his body years ago, long before last summer when he began working at Tagg’s. Even though he would take out his door knocker septum piercing in an instant if Schober asked him to, the staff accepted Ingraham exactly the way he was, he said.
“It’s one of the best work environments I’ve had, to be honest. I’ve done a lot of fast food and stuff where everyone is just … you show up you punch in,” Ingraham said. “It’s kind of like a little family here, even though we’re all kind of weird.”
At least once a week, Ingraham goes to a punk concert in a bar or basement. When he’s not working or spending time with the punk community, he’s setting up shows and designing flyers for his musically-inclined friends, volunteering when he can and taking care of his cat.
“It’s not a faceless, autonomous job. It’s not like that at all. It’s people … Every customer that walks in should be treated like an individual, not a number, not a ticket, not a slip.”Todd Ingraham
Even after clocking out for the night, Ingraham usually hangs around for another 20 minutes or so, just in case there is extra work to be done.
In the past, Ingraham has done stints as a tattoo artist, security guard and employee at Culver’s, where the customers wanted their food in two minutes and without interaction — a stark contrast to his current experience at Tagg’s, he said.
“We’re kind of a ragtag group here, and outside of work, maybe a lot of these customers wouldn’t interact with me, but here, everything just meshes together and blends,” Ingraham said. “It might just be a couple sentences while we’re making food and stuff, but … I don’t feel like people are necessarily looking down at me. We have good conversations.”
Ingraham said he thinks of the Tagg’s staff as the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in the best possible way. Each and every staffer has his back, and he has theirs, he said.
Ingraham regards customers with a similar mentality and stops whatever he is doing, no matter how busy he is, to make sure they feel welcome.
“It’s not a faceless, autonomous job. It’s not like that at all. It’s people … Every customer that walks in should be treated like an individual, not a number, not a ticket, not a slip,” Ingraham said. “That’s the way I feel about it.”
Sandwich Order: “Much like working here, if I were to eat the same thing every time, I would get bored, but every day here, every day here is different.”
Julie, Counter Person
When asked about her life outside of Tagg’s, Julie said the “spotlight” should be on other staffers because she has only worked there sporadically for a couple of years, and because she did not think she had anything interesting to say.
As it turns out, Julie is capable of crossing hot coals without getting burned — nothing noteworthy there.
“I lead fire walks,” she said. “They’re empowerment workshops, and we teach people how to overcome challenges and obstacles by walking across fires.”
Julie has been walking across fire for three years. After doing it for the first time in Sedona, she was hooked.
“It doesn’t matter how many tattoos you have or what color hair you have, as long as you’re nice to people, you can work here.”Julie
Her workshops teach people to alter their thinking about what is and is not surmountable, and at the end of the class, participants have the option to walk barefoot across hot coals. Even if they choose not to, Julie said it is still a life-changing experience to witness someone else bend the laws of physics.
“Part of what we teach is from the time that we were born [we were taught] that fire burns, and so we ask you, what if fire doesn’t burn all the time? And what if you can walk across fire and not get burned?” Julie said. “What else in your life can you overcome that you’ve been telling yourself that you can’t? And so that, that’s the switch. So we help people make that shift.”
When she’s not raising her energy level to surpass that of fire — which is how to avoid burns, Julie said — she works the cash register, where she has also begun selling her line of organic body products called Magic Moon Productions. The scrubs, bath salts and sprays contain therapeutic essential oils and all-natural ingredients that are free of chemicals and preservatives.
Once the winter months end and the real estate market picks back up, Julie spends less time at Tagg’s and more time working at Inventure Realty, the same company where Kaiser and Schober also work.
When she is behind the cash register, though, Julie loves to watch the customers — especially the UW students — be individuals.
“People can just be themselves and have their funky hair, their funky clothes, and they’re accepted, and the people who work here are too,” Julie said. “That’s the other thing that I think makes it a little different for the staff — it doesn’t matter how many tattoos you have or what color hair you have, as long as you’re nice to people, you can work here.”
Breakfast Sandwich Order: No bread, chopped avocado, sausage, egg, regular cheddar, smoked cheddar.
Sandwich Order: Focaccia, smoked turkey, avocado, lettuce, regular cheddar, smoked gouda.
Michael “Mike” Lamberton, General Manager
Around eight years ago, Mike Lamberton decided the major he intended on pursuing professionally just was not for him. He was studying computer science when his job in IT confirmed his dissatisfaction with his field of choice.
Instead, Lamberton began working at Tagg’s, where he handles the building, wiring and networking of the store’s technology, on top of his managerial duties.
“[Computer science] was tedious and boring and I wasn’t a fan of it, so continuing my studies was just not in my interest,” Lamberton said. “I get to do it every so often, but not to a point where I’m constantly just sitting behind a desk and dealing with this stuff, so I still get some experience in that.”
As Schober’s second in command, Lamberton can act in his place when he isn’t physically there, Schober said. More recently, though, Lamberton has not been able to spend just as much time in the store as he used to.
Lamberton used to open the store every morning, but now he has to drop off his soon-to-be three year-old daughter at daycare several days out of the week. Schober accommodated this change and trained a new staff member to open the shop every day, Lamberton said.
Aside from working at Tagg’s, Lamberton loves being outside as much as he can. In the winter, this means skiing as frequently as his budget allows, and in the summer, he likes biking, hiking and traveling.
Lamberton has never been outside of North America before, so he is looking forward to getting off of the continent for six days in May to celebrate the wedding of a former Tagg’s coworker in Colombia. Lamberton’s best friend is actually a former Tagg’s assistant manager, and he said it is quite common for him to stay in touch with the former employees, after they move onto other professions.
Sandwich Order: Asiago cheese bread, cajun turkey, muenster cheese.
Breakfast Sandwich Order: Croissant, bacon, sausage, american cheese, smoked cheddar.
Merideth Fetting, Opener
After Lamberton’s personal schedule as a father began conflicting with his schedule as general manager, he and Schober trained Merideth Fetting to open Tagg’s in the morning, and she has been doing a “fantastic” job ever since, Lamberton said. Fetting arrives at 5 a.m. to begin setting up the shop and baking the bread and donuts.
She considers these couple of hours to be her favorite part of the day because of the shop’s calmness and her sense of accomplishment.
“It’s the least hectic part of the day,” Fetting said.
Over two years, Fetting went from working 12 hours per week to working 50. She first started at Tagg’s after her roommate began working there and recommended that she apply too.
“There’s a sense of belonging here. I’ve never had that any other place.”Merideth Fetting
Fetting had just come out as transgender and was having trouble finding employment, and since Tagg’s is known for its accepting environment, she decided to follow her roommate’s advice.
“I came out and I started transitioning while I was here [at Tagg’s], so everybody knew me and my old name before that, and it was amazing to me actually how well people transitioned into the new name and pronouns,” Fetting said. “They actually did better here than my family did.”
Fetting’s mother, who she was never too close with in the first place, no longer speaks to her, but Fetting’s 93 year-old maternal grandmother is very supportive, she said.
Before Tagg’s, Fetting said she had only ever held down work for six months or less, largely because she was trying to repress her trans identity by taking physically demanding jobs in fields like manufacturing and construction. When she came to Tagg’s, she had been living on government assistance and had barely left home for two years, Fetting said.
“There’s a sense of belonging here, I’ve never had that any other place … By the time I came out, I was in a pretty bad place in my life, and [Schober] was more than willing to work with me and let me do as much as I could,” Fetting said. “I kind of came out of my shell a little bit here. The environment, and [Schober], in particular, being so supportive is a lot of the reason for it.”
For the first time in a long time, Fetting is looking ahead to the future, which is something that scared her before she came out.
Before losing funding and dropping out of school, Fetting spent about six months learning about computer repair. She plans to use the knowledge she gained to start her own business where tech professionals would pool their resources to fix computer problems for a low price.
“This is the first place I’ve ever been at where I actually have foresight into the future, and now I have a plan for myself,” Fetting said.
Sandwich Order: Onion roll, salami, onions, thousand island dressing.