Return of the Country Butcher
Dec. 16, 2016
The Country Butcher has evolved since Stepehn Boyer started working in his family's business as a kid, in 1975.
Reinvention is a way of life and a pathway to success for Stephen Boyer, president and owner of The Country Butcher and Spring Meadow Farm in Tolland, Connecticut.
It was 1975 when Boyer, then 12 years of age, teamed up with his father to start a company called B&B Slaughter Services. The idea was that they would tap into their on-the-farm meat processing experience and use a mobile unit to do custom killing and processing of meat for other farmers who needed help. This was based out of the 80-acre family farm in Tolland.
“I guess you could say we were mobile custom before mobile custom was cool,” Boyer reflects. “I had always been involved in the Future Farmers of America and 4-H programs with everything from hogs and steers to dairy cattle, even the livestock show circuit.”
Things went as planned for 12 years until a smokehouse fire burned down the business. It was then that he and his wife, Cathy, agreed to operate a new meat processing concept called The Country Butcher in the nearby town of Ellington. They would no longer do slaughter, but rather focus on further processing meat, including smoking and curing and producing value-added items. They wiped away the ashes from the earlier family business and remained there for 19 years. Their 3,000-sq.-ft. facility soon expanded to 6,000 sq. ft.
“It’s funny, but when we were in Ellington, there were six sizeable grocery stores around us and they kept telling us that we would never make a go of it,” Boyer says. “Today, those stores are all gone and we really started to take off.”
BACK TO HIS ROOTS
The couple decided to move The Country Butcher back to the family farm in Tolland and began buying federally inspected meats from other plants and devoted themselves to quality craftsmanship in sausage, hams and bacons.
“We really took a chance,” he explains. “We had been open six days a week in Ellington and decided that at the new location we would only be open for retail on Fridays and Saturdays. We changed directions and discontinued our custom work about five years ago. We had been running out of product in the retail area and determined that we could have fresher meats and full cases if we made the items two or three days earlier and flash froze the sausage. It was a great move and the satisfaction from customers was overwhelming. As we put out the sausage, it thawed very quickly and retained the peak of fresh flavor. We were selling five times as much product at retail two days a week as we had been doing six days a week previously.”
The new plant, which was actually built on a horse pasture, was enclosed within 30 days, although the finished facility took a few more months. It is styled as a colonial farmhouse, with a wrap-around porch, complete with rocking chairs. It has cathedral ceilings and is decorated to coincide with the seasons and holidays.
“We had been a German and European atmosphere shop in Ellington, but were finding out that increasingly our customers were more Americanized,” Boyer explains. “So we reinvented ourselves as an old-fashioned American country butcher shop in a historic colonial New England town. The retail store interior has custom cut log walls and is decorated with antique farm and meat processing equipment, even a wagon on the porch.”
Boyer is quick to point out that many of the recipes he uses were taught to him by his mentor Helmut (Hal) Wagner, a legendary German wurstmeister and salesman for First Spice Mixing Co. He says many other members of the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors (PAMP) and the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) took him under their wings to help him out with production and marketing ideas. He returned the favor by serving many years on the PAMP board, including the presidency, and spent three years as a Regional Director on the AAMP board.
Aside from listening to advice from his fellow small processors, Boyer applied his talents and continuing search for quality to garner over 60 competition awards at the state and national level. His business in Tolland has grown even in lean years.
“We’re not the 99 cents a pound chicken guys,” he continues. “Our presentation isn’t just in the quality of our products, but in everything we do. Our landscaping is immaculate, from flowers to trimmed bushes, to blowing the leaves from the parking lot. Everything in our retail store appeals to the senses of sight, sound and aroma. We strongly believe our customers expect this of us and it makes our products a higher value even at a higher price.
“One of our biggest events to advertise is our fall Open House. We greet customers in the parking lot and welcome them. We give them a bag with information about all aspects of our business. The packet of information we give out introduces them to our business and products and services. We include coupons that are good (one a month) for six months. We find that 90 percent of the first timers keep coming back.”