Ever wonder what it would have been like to live in a town like Mayberry, where everyone—from the hairdresser to the butcher—knows your name, your usual order, and your story? Well, in Middlebury, Ind. people don’t really have to wonder, at least when it comes to the local butcher.
Ten years ago, Randy Grewe walked into Old Hoosier Meats, and nothing was ever the same. At the time, the business was owned by family friends. After Grewe made a few suggestions about what they could or should do with the company, his friend said, “We have been wanting to move on anyway; why don’t you just take over?” So, Randy gave up his company car and vacation days and took the challenge.
Grewe spent a year learning the ropes before ownership was entirely his. “Everyone tells you that owning a business takes a lot of time, and you don’t really believe it until you do it. You realize that there really are a lot of hours to it,” Grewe said.
In spite of the amount of work, he believes Old Hoosier Meats is worth it. “We are a small town, and a lot of people know who we are. They appreciate what they get here versus what they would get at a big market: meat that has been chopped or ground up who knows when, and sits on a styrofoam tray for two or three days before being bought. People appreciate knowing who I am and how we handle our meats. And I know them personally. I love hearing after the fact that their family cookout was just great because everyone loved our pulled pork. I love that I get to see a lot of the same people over and over again.”
Grewe added, “I have a 16-year-old son that makes me glad to have a meat market, because he would be costing me a fortune right now. He eats so much meat…he would eat a pound of meat every meal if he could.”
But let’s get to the real meat and potatoes…
Small-town relationships aren’t the only thing that makes Old Hoosier Meats reminiscentof Mayberry. Unlike many meat stores that use metal smokers bought from manufacturers and use chips for fuel, Grewe still uses an old-fashioned wood smoker to smoke many varieties of meat—all of which comes from Troyer foods in Goshen.
During the holiday season they typically smoke 300 to 400 hams and 200 turkeys. Every Thursday they smoke at least 70 to 80 stacks of ribs, which were voted the best in Elkhart County by the Elkhart Truth in 2009.They also make their own beef jerky, beef sticks, smoked bacon, smoked chicken, pulled pork, and more.
Old Hoosier Meats hand-chops, grinds, and packages all of their meats. They also have a variety of specialty meats. “We try to have stuff that you won’t find at Kroger and Martin’s. We do at least 12 kinds of brats. Our biggest seller is our Hawaiian, which has pineapple, mandarin oranges, and teriyaki. We also do a kielbasa, chicken brats, jalapeño and cheese, and more. We developed these ourselves,” Grewe explained.
In the future, Grewe hopes to gain more whole-sale accounts, produce more ready-to-eat products (like his pulled pork), and make more ready-to-bake goods (like their pre-seasoned chicken).
His advice for anyone considering starting a small business: “Find the right employees. It is tough—especially in the food business. We don’t have a ton of money to spend for employees. Your employee pool especially narrows down when you are looking for someone who has any type of experience cutting meat. So, when you do find good employees, treat them well—otherwise you continually have to retrain them.”
He also recommends building quality relationships with customers, being willing to go the extra mile for them. “I grilled for a customer last week who had people in from Alabama. She came in for meat and I convinced her, saying, ‘Let me grill for ya.’ They are regular customers, and they have done stuff for my family before. I love that.”