|Meat was delivered door-to-door by horse and buggy when Laudermilch Meats began business in 1919.|
Laudermilch Meats is now entering its 95th year of satisfying the down-home meat and food cravings of Central Pennsylvanians. The Annville family business serves as a 15,000-sq.-ft. repository for all things that have made Pennsylvania Dutch foods so recognized around the world.
Started in 1919 by brothers Edwin, Clayton and John Laudermilch, the business relies on its storied past, quality recipes and first-class service to continue its reign as the old-fashioned butcher shop where folks keep coming back for something special.
Located about eight miles from famed Hershey (Chocolate Town USA) on busy Route 422, Laudermilch Meats is as much an attraction for those seeking to satisfy their Pennsylvania Dutch culinary wishes as one can find.
Originally located in an old barn in nearby Cleona, the business moved operations to a new structure in 1970 where it vastly expanded around its centerpiece of locally raised beef, pork and poultry.
General Manager David Laudermilch says the USDA-inspected facility does about 85 percent of its trade in retail sales, but still services commercial accounts throughout the area.
“We’re only a few minutes from large shopping malls that deal in huge volumes of meats,” he notes. “But we know that when the customer is looking for something less mundane for the holidays or for that special occasion, they come here. We can’t compete with lower prices the big stores offer, but we have a variety and quality in our selections that makes our store a ‘must-stop’ place at competitive pricing.”
David, a business administration graduate of Millersville Univ., points out that the firm still uses a family-designed smokehouse and decorates its retail area with antique butcher equipment that was used by the company for generations.
Old charm, new customers
The Laudermilch enterprise taps into the mystique of its past to introduce new customers to their offerings. On most summer days, they wheel out a 15-ft. by 20-ft. clapboard, high-pitched roof barn-style structure to their parking lot. About 40 customers at a time can eat inside the eye-catching barn, complete with steam tables, microwaves, and other serving and preparation equipment. A typical fare would be hot dogs with all the toppings for only 50 cents. And, as the family contemplated, most outdoor diners venture into the retail area to feast their eyes and fill their shopping carts with a mind-boggling array of prepared meals, deli and bakery items and, of course, specialties from the meat department.
|Laudermilch Meats uses this mobile barn for special events and catering jobs. It's equipped with steam tables and other serving and prep equipment.|
Other ways to introduce new customers to their offerings in this outdoor setting include meat loaf, chicken and ham loaf dinners, all ready for the shopper to sit down and enjoy.
Laudermilch’s more than holds its own with sales of high-quality, hand-cut meats…in fact, they show off their wares with more than 100-ft. of meat display cases. But it is the deli and prepared-food display that drops jaws.
Regional specialties like stuffed pig stomachs, ham loaves, pot pies, oven-ready breaded turkey and chicken filets and old-fashioned bolognas smoked in cloth casings abound. The deli offers 15-types of store-prepared soups, 20 styles of sausages, both fresh and smoked, ready to heat strombolis, salads and luncheon meats and loaves of every stripe.
A made-from-scratch bakery on the lower level sends aromas into the retail area that will grasp your senses. Cakes, wet bottom shoo-fly pies, cookies and the fabled Lebanon County whoopee pies are displayed in a rainbow effect. We’ve seen plenty of small meat shops that make a few breads and rolls from premixed formulations, but this is grandma’s kitchen calling your name.
“We have about 50 employees and a lot of what we do is labor-intensive, but there is no substitute for the delights coming from a full-service bakery,” David exclaims.
His father Lee Laudermilch, now 79, disdains titles and comes into the shop “eight or more days a week because my job here is my hobby.”
While many of the elders in a family-owned business are quick to take credit for things that went right, Lee is refreshingly different in the way he confides about things that missed the intended target.
|David (left) and his father, Lee Laudermilch, show off the smokehouse display bin in the retail store.|
“Some years ago, we thought about opening every day of the week,” he explains. “We thought that with more family members working, their shopping times would be restricted and they would find Sunday shopping more convenient. But after some time, we realized that our volume of sales was staying about the same, it was just spread out over six days instead of five. In reality, it was costing us much more in labor and time to prepare and maintain a six-day-a-week schedule and we gave it up.”
Lee notes that for many years the business operated meat stands at three farmer’s markets, but rethought the process and moved to make their store “a sort of farmers market of our own.” They erected a large pole building and leased it out to a company that sells the produce, fruits and vegetables during the busiest months. That step, he said, resulted in extra income but also attracted larger crowds to the store location.
Despite the sleepy country-store appearance, Laudermilch Meats does a serious volume on its specialty products. It churns out no less than two tons of its homemade bread stuffings between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the New Year’s holiday it sells about three tons of pork and an abundance of their private-label sauerkraut in 2-lb. pouches. Many customers find it impossible to find anything quite as tasty as their double-smoked hams.
The company also does a respectable volume of private-label sauces, broths and spices and other kitchen condiments. They even offer private-label, home-canned style peaches.
The firm has its own website, laudermilchmeats.com, and can ship items nearly anywhere in the US, but there are limitations.
“We are not selling shirts or socks,” David admonishes. “Meat is a very time-sensitive thing and maybe it’s that the delivery system needed to get our products out in perfect condition hasn’t advanced to the stage we need it to be. But we’re still working on it.”
The retail store has expanded twice since it opened at the new location, enlargements that coincided with their introduction of new products.
In addition to website specials, including 10 versions of bulk meat bundles, the shop advertises in area merchandiser publications. But its selection of products and well-trained and friendly counter personnel are the twin engines that keep customers coming back. Many of their employees have been with them for decades.
The business is still owned and operated by family members Lee and David, and Lee’s nephew Dennis Laudermilch.
Still, there is a knack to knowing their customers’ needs that allows the Laudermilch family to stay one step ahead of the big-box stores. For example, customers can buy a half-loaf of bread, something unheard of in the aisles of the mass wholesale stores.
“It’s what they want and what they need that we pay attention to and that rewards us in ways that go beyond the bottom line of profit or loss for any product,” Lee advises.
“Years ago, when the company was founded, we delivered meats door to door by horse and buggy,” he reminisces. “If the customer wasn’t home, the door was unlocked and the delivery man would put the meats in the refrigerator or ice box. There is a trust that the customer has in every business they deal with. We may not deliver meats that way anymore, but there remains an expectation that we must always be a company the customer can trust.”
Steve Krut, an industry veteran, is a contributing editor writing exclusively for Meat&Poultry, specializing in small business issues. He resides in Marietta, Pa.