Anything but draining

by Steve Krut
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 Small Biz
Dave Haworth is a retired master plumber who is now the president and owner of Riverton, Wyoming's Clark Meat House.
 
Many small meat processors dream about building a larger plant, but Dave Haworth is more focused on finding ways to better utilize the 8,000 sq. ft. available in Clark’s Meat House. The improbable size of the facility in this Riverton, Wyoming, community of 10,000 is almost as unfathomable as the story of how this retired master plumber became president and owner of one of the West’s most idyllic meat companies.

“I left Vancouver, Washington, after my plumbing career and years on an oil drilling rig,” Haworth reminisces. “I just loved to cook. I did pretty well in competitions for smoked salmon and meats using an old kettle cooker. I had even developed a barbecue seasoning that I thought I could market nationally.

“When I returned home for a visit with my mother who lived in Riverton, there was an old ice plant and meat shop that came up for sale and an owner who had developed his own formulation for a prime rib seasoning that he was selling successfully.”

It was at that point when he met Grant Clark, who to this day could be called a frontiersman in small meat processing. Clark learned meat processing from his father who operated a meat business in Casper, about 100 miles east of Riverton. When Clark bought the old ice plant/shop in Riverton in 1963, he sold and delivered fresh meats and his spice mixture to small businesses and grocers that fell under the radar of the large wholesale distributors.

Clark, now 80, still comes in a few days a week to offer his years of wisdom to Dave and his wife Maggie, but also towers as a living legend as to what a person can do when they care about their customers. Clark was a founder of the Wyoming Meat Processors Association and was instrumental in helping start the Colorado Association of Meat Processors and the Montana Meat Processors Association.

“He was a businessman,” Dave explains, “but he also felt an innate need to share his tricks of the trade with other small processors and truly believed that if they worked together and learned from each other, there would always be a place for them in the future.”

Haworth’s state-inspected facility operates with a range of six to 12 employees, including the Haworths and two of their sons. He took the enterprise in new directions, creating award-winning hams, smoked turkeys, bacons, and sausages. One might not expect to find top-shelf andouille, chorizo and linguiça sausages in a community that sits in the middle of an Indian reservation. But you would have to travel far and wide to find products comparable to the Reuben bratwurst, habanero mango sausage, sriracha onion or Hawaiian bratwurst concoctions that emanate from Clark’s Meat House.
 Small biz
Clark Meat House serves the town of Riverton, Wyoming, which is a community of 10,000.
 

Resilience and flexibility

“We are maybe not famous, but are certainly recognized for our prime ribs done the old-fashioned way,” Dave says. “We more or less convert a 107 cut to a 110 with a nice trim, tied and seasoned with Clark’s rub. It just flies out of the case, and during the holiday seasons, it’s tough to keep up with demand.”

The Haworths took over the plant in August 2005, and only nine years ago added smokehouses, then a Vemag, Formax needle injectors, a mixer and even a commercial dishwashing system.

“You have to realize that Wyoming is currently in a bust time,” Dave says. “If things come back in mining and refining like many are hoping, the oil industry pays such high wages that many restaurants and businesses have a hard time finding and retaining help. So when we can provide cutting and prep services that save them time and labor, our business volume will increase.”

 Small biz
Clark's offers a variety of fresh and smoked meat products.
 
Recent knockout sellers from the company include fully cooked pulled pork, marinated wings, and “Great with Beer” sausages as well as a deli meat list that features in-house made corned beef, hot dogs, pastrami and roast beef. Summer sausages and snack sticks are also a favorite for their customers.

“We have to keep reinventing ourselves,” Dave reflects. “We have to continuously improve the products and services we offer. When we bought our smokehouses, the bacon and ham colors became picturesque, so much richer and deeper, with great flavor. We offer customized gift baskets and deli trays. We make each order unique to meet the needs of each customer; types of meats, cheeses, sliced or cubed, for rolls or finger food – it’s their way, not ours.”

Clark’s game processing services have expanded from just grinding and wrapping to super-customizing the products and processing for hunters. Sportsmen can count on getting a variety of value-added products made from their game animals and the company guarantees each hunter gets their own wild game meat back with single-batch sausage as well as specialty items in 25-lb. orders. Nearly half of the former ice plant is freezer space and there is plenty of cooler area as well, allowing complete separation of domestic and wild game processing/storage.

Haworth confesses that earning a living in an old building has its challenges. He says recent changes in the electrical and lighting systems were a great improvement, but acknowledges that upcoming priorities include a new roof later this year.

Haworth’s decision to buy the facility as a base for growing his barbecue seasoning has paid off in spades. That venture has thrived and the demand for Wyomin’ Dave’s BBQ Seasoning and rub continues to grow.
 Small biz
The state-inspected facility operates with a range of six to 12 employees, including Dave and Maggie Haworth and their two sons, Jake (left) and Russ (right).


Old and new


Clark’s Meat House advertises on local radio stations, Facebook/email, and uses delivery trucks as mobile billboards. The delivery route can be up to 150 miles in radius. Its website, clarksmeathouse.com, is fact-filled, colorful, maybe a tad boastful, but totally down-to-earth.

The importance of advertising can’t be downplayed, but the best form of advertising remains the one the Haworths learned from Grant Clark. It’s called community involvement. If there is an event in the area, from chili cook-offs to the Elks, the Rotary or even the rodeo crowd, Clark’s Meat House seems to be involved.

“The Cattle Women’s Association and Cowbelles, ladies/ranchers associated with the beef industry, used to prepare roast beef for their annual banquet/events,” Haworth says. “They come to us to have it cooked and sliced and they keep coming back every year. That’s the kind of endorsement you can’t ever buy.”

Dave and Maggie have followed the trail blazed by Grant Clark in industry service. He is a past-national director of the American Association of Meat Processors, past-president of the Wyoming Meat Processors Association, and his wife is past-president of the chamber of commerce and is currently secretary/treasurer of the Wyoming Meat Processors Association. They are regular attendees at Montana and Colorado conventions. In fact, the Wyoming and Colorado groups hold a combined annual convention called “Hands Across the Rockies.”

“I just love what I do, but the interaction with other small processors I’ve met is more precious than gold,” he says. The willingness to help others succeed doesn’t cease to amaze. “Imagine entering a cured meats competition and having the folks you are competing against share their tips with you on how they make their products better and how you could do the same. It might be hard work and a challenge sometimes running a small meat processing business, but through interfacing with others like yourself, you realize you are not alone and somehow the load gets lighter.”
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