Customers at Den's Country Meats might notice the higher prices at first, buy after they learn about the quality products, they're willing to pay more, accordin gto Dennis Schaardt. 

Awards and accolades

The company has won over 150 awards in cured meats competitions staged annually by the Nebraska Association of Meat Processors (NAMP), an organization Schaardt and his wife Kim served for a decade as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

In addition, Den’s Country Meats captured the “Best of Show” award two years ago for its large diameter sandwich bologna. Over the years, the business has also earned top awards in the American Cured Meat Championships sponsored by the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP). This year Schaardt entered products at the International Meat Trades Fair under the banner of the German Butchers Association and brought home gold medals for his ring bologna and hot dogs.

The transformations made in his business continue. He and his daughter Courtney recently began using Safe Food Pro, a computer-based software program used to monitor and document their HACCP program. He has also invested in equipment that makes production easier, including a Handtmann stuffer that lifts product to make employee tasks easier and this summer installed a 500-lb., one-truck Scott Pec smokehouse.

Despite the equipment updates, Schaardt still finds his most difficult job is finding good employees.

“I know we could double or triple our business with more workers,” he adds, “but you cannot believe how tough it is to find good people who want to work.”

Courtney works in Lincoln, where she teaches agriculture courses. She returns to Table Rock regularly to monitor and answer the huge volume of Facebook and social media messages the meat shop generates.

“We had a web site and actually discontinued it,” Schaardt says. “The social media approach gets us much more results and has customers talking about our business more than our website was able to call attention to our business.”

For the past five years, Kim has worked managing a medical clinic, leaving little time for her involvement in the family business. Two sons, Colton, 20, doing an internship at the Univ. of Nebraska in Lincoln, and Clayton, 16, both assist with deliveries, working the service counter and maintaining the retail area.

For most small plants, that would be the end of the least the part about how the business was built and grew. But for Dennis Schaardt, there is an entire other dimension – service.

He has been the mayor of Table Rock and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Pawnee County the past four years. He has also interfaced with nearly 400 youngsters in 4-H groups and Future Farmers of America councils, supporting meat judging programs and cutting demonstrations both in the plant and at other educational venues.

He is also a winner of AAMP’s Golden Cleaver Award for sponsoring the most members in that group in a year and is the only twice-elected president AAMP has had in its 77-year history. He and Kim earned AAMP’s Accomplishment Award in 1996 for their company growth, innovation and industry service, and the group’s Outstanding Service Award in 2006 for their dedication and leadership of the association.