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Rugby Home of Economy thanks community with gator meat, treats and TV personalities

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 3, 2021

Rugby Home of Economy Manager Troy Duchscherer, left, and Grand Forks Home of Economy Manager Allan Defoe move a plated, smoked whole alligator to a serving table.

About 500 people lined up at Rugby’s Home of Economy store June 23 for a taste of Cajun cuisine, courtesy of CEO Scott Pearson and Bruce Mitchell of the hit show “Swamp People.”

While Scott supervised the plating of a smoked whole alligator filled with stuffing from his special recipe, his brother, Wade Pearson, greeted guests with samples of deep fried alligator meat nuggets.

Wade is president of Home of Economy stores.

“Try one,” Wade said, offering a nugget. “They’re battered in Dot’s Pretzel mix.”

The crunchy pretzel coating sealed the juices in the tender, white meat nugget.

Alligator meat’s taste resembles pork or fish, according to most people who try it.

“The whole point is to get notice and have people here and have fun. We think in retail you have to have fun and set yourself apart these days,” Wade said.

“In Williston, which is a bigger city, it really went over big. We had over 2,000 people there,” Wade added.

The crowd of 500 in Rugby, population 2,724 represented a larger turnout percentage than the number at the Williston event.

“It started as a thank you,” Wade said. “It’s not really old; I think Scott’s been doing it about five years. It’s just to have a thank you and let people know we appreciate them. To have an event and be the center of the event is really cool.”

Wade described how Home of Economy’s new tradition began.

“It started when somebody released a gator in Brainerd, Minnesota. That was in the news. Scott thought, ‘Well, gee, it would be nice to eat something scary!’ That was kind of what clicked in his head,” Wade said, smiling.

Wade said the Pearson family was glad to have another Home of Economy store in Rugby after closing a former store in the 1960s.

“I’ve got a matchbook cover in my office that has the Rugby store on there,” Wade said.

Wade said he’s “always liked” Rugby.

“When this place became available – and I’ve looked at this building for a long time – I thought if it ever became available, it would be the best location for another store,” Wade said, referring to Rugby’s ideal location halfway between Devils Lake and Minot.

“We’ve driven around and it’s a great community. Everyone keeps everything up,” Wade said.

“We’ve got a great team,” Wade added. “Troy (Duchscherer)’s doing a great job as a manager. The store looks great.”

Scott said he was “really happy” to see the crowd turn out for the menu of smoked alligator and alligator nugget samples, pulled pork, bratwurst and salmon. Sides for the feast included potato salad, coleslaw, jambalaya and crawfish prepared by Mitchell, and Scott Pearson’s special stuffing.

Mitchell’s wife, Janet, baked pumpkin pies for the event.

“I think the big feature is the crawfish tail meat,” Scott said of his stuffing. “There’s a lot of crawfish tail meat in it, jalapenos, cornbread. There’s chicken broth, like a lot of things and lots of vegetables – onion, green pepper, celery, all the standard vegetables. It’s a lot like Bruce’s jambalaya, but cornbread instead of rice,” Scott added. “I’ve made the stuffing before, but I wanted something special.”

Scott said the gator he smoked overnight and finished on a Traeger grill was “a little more than six feet long from nose to tail. You buy them by the weight, but I wanted to show it (as a whole gator). It was about a 32 pounder and only 40 percent of that is meat.”

“I think we got more than 14 pounds of meat,” Scott said of the gator, which he purchased from the Louisiana Crawfish Company. The Rugby store posted a live video of Scott dressing and stuffing the gator, curling its head and tail together before placing it in the smoker Tuesday evening.

Janet Mitchell sliced pie as volunteers from the Rugby Chamber of Commerce and other organizations dished up portions of meat and side dishes.

Bruce Mitchell mingled with the crowd forming a long line in the parking lot.

“I cook a lot of gators,” Mitchell said. “That’s what we were basically raised on – alligator, frogs and stuff that comes out of the bayou.”

“Alligator, the main thing when you cook it – you can fry it, bake it, stew it, however you want – just cut the fat off,” Mitchell recommended. “You do not want to eat the fat on an alligator. It’s no good.”

“But alligator is delicious,” Mitchell said. “I’ve eaten a lot of it in my life. Lots of it.”

Mitchell, who said he would soon launch a cooking show on Amazon Prime and the Roku Channel, shared his recipe for jambalaya.

“For jambalaya, you take some pork, in big pots. At home, we’ve got really big pots. You could fit four of the pots we’ve got here in them and put a lid on it,” Mitchell said. “You take your pork and brown it and put your sausage in it – your Andouille sausage – and you put some chicken in. You cook all it down. You throw your onions and peppers and all that in it; cook it all down good. You let it sit about an hour cooking. Let it get all tender and then put water in and seasoning in and let it cook, then add your rice and let it cook down and you’ve got something good to eat.”

“A lot of Louisiana cooking starts out like that, with little pieces of this and a little piece of that,” Mitchell added. “That’s how we make our gumbos and jambalayas and stuff like that.”

Mitchell said he and his wife have known the Pearson family “for about eight years” and likes visiting North Dakota, especially when Louisiana temperatures climb.

The Mitchells also stay busy filming “Swamp People” episodes. “I’m on another TV show, ‘Serpent Invasion,’ where we catch pythons in Florida,” Mitchell said.

Dressed in a chef’s coat and apron, Scott Pearson mingled with guests near the food tables in front of the store.

“I was glad that it was time for a gator party,” Scott said. “It was somebody else’s turn because it’s been three years since some stores have had a gator party. I wanted to do something in Rugby, so here we are.”

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