Carnivore's colony

by Steve Krut
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Small Biz
The Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse operates out of the original building from 1855.
 
I
t’s possible, but you probably won’t find a continuously operated meat shop in the United States older than Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse in east-central Iowa. Still in the original building established in 1855, the shop has changed with the times and is an upbeat player in the arena of selling meats by mail.

 

Tim Blattner, 31, who came on board as “seasonal help” in October of 2007, now holds down the job as production manager. He relates some of the changes the enterprise has seen since it was founded as part of the Amana Colonies 162 years ago:

“The Amana Colonies is a group of seven villages established by German immigrants that wanted to retain the culture and lifestyle of their homeland. Living communally, each village had its own meat shop that provided hams, bacons and sausages made in the Old World tradition using long-held recipes.

“In 1932, the changing world and Great Depression forced the leaders to end communal living and form the Amana Society, a business corporation. Each member was given shares in the new corporation and continued to work in their designated trades. This historical landmark would put the Amana Colonies and the Amana Society on a road to major changes.”

Small Biz
The weekend of Oktoberfest sees 25,000 people gather at the Amana facilities.
 

Travel desitination

As the Amana Society’s reputation for quality products, including heritage smoked meats spread, the Amana Colonies quickly became a destination for travelers. Three decades before interstate highways were built, visitors came by railway to experience special food and small-town hospitality. Today the Amana Colonies welcome visitors year-round, but there is nothing like its Oktoberfest weekend when 25,000 people gather at the facilities over a three-day period.

“We’ve had nearly 7,000 people in our small shop in a single day during these events,” Blattner says, “and on average days during the heavy summer tourist season we may get up to 800 in a day.”

Sure, they come for the historical element, but few leave without a visit to the 1,400-sq.-ft. retail meat store where a robust sampling program of jerky, snack stick and meat munchies entice them to become shoppers. The production and shipping area make up an additional 5,600 sq. ft.

“We greatly value our historical tradition,” he explains, “but we want visitors to enjoy a meat shopping experience. That means our service personnel are smiling, offering friendly service and facilitating a happy experience for them. They go above and beyond what the tourists expect.”

The shop is decorated in the style of the settlement and features a service counter where custom cut filets, steaks, Iowa-style thick pork chops (smoked and unsmoked), and fresh brats are on display. They offer a new flavored bratwurst on a regular basis.

“We remain true to our original recipes, but find that today’s shoppers like more spicy and smoked flavors than in the past,” Blattner adds.

A workforce of 12 full-timers and 20 to 25 part-time employees staff the shop and production area during the busy season.

Years ago, the shop went from a wood-burning gravity smokehouse to a stainless-steel processing oven and works with only one stuffer. With a fresh production room, cooked product room and a chill cooler, the business has manufacturing limitations but has “things in the works” to address that drawback. They partner with other companies to produce items like five styles of bacon and smoked turkeys.

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