As he was finishing high school, Matt King worked for the previous owner of Main Street Meat Co. in his hometown of Roscoe, Illinois. In 2006, he and his parents, Jim and Amy King, decided to purchase the small retail store.
“My family has always had a love of food,” King recalls. “Having five kids in our large family, we always cooked in large quantities. With our ‘foodie’ intuition, it is no surprise that we would end up in the food business.”
But Matt King, now 32 years old and the plant manager, says he thought the restaurant business would involve working late every night and that the meat business could ultimately be more profitable. Maybe he was a little off about the prospect of long hours, but boy, did he ever pick the right horse when it comes to running a rewarding business.
“In 2012, we realized that the 1,500-sq.-ft. restaurant and store in a strip mall was too small and decided to go heavier into the meat business, bought ground and built a 6,500-sq.-ft. meat processing plant,” he adds.
They also decided to add a deli and cafe section to the business.
“We wanted to make our own meats to wholesale and went under state meat inspection,” King explains. “In the back parking lot, we have a 7,000-sq.-ft. structure to allow more refrigeration and cooler space and expand our deer processing.”
Located just two miles south of the Wisconsin state line off Interstate 90, Main Street Meat Co. is now about 90 percent retail but has targeted growing its wholesale trade. To achieve this goal, the company applied for federal inspection and was advised it would receive USDA approval in early April, which would allow the company to ship across state lines.
Using several family recipes, meat product ideas gleaned from other small processors and numerous spice companies, they began growing their product lineup. King also invested 2½ years learning how to refine and improve his offerings by attending the Master Meat Craft program at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, which he completed in 2016.
Lest anyone think that King pilots the plant on his own, Matt is quick to point out his parents and sister, Hannah Thiessen, are an integral part of the day-to-day responsibilities. His mother manages a social media program that puts most others to shame while his father tackles the maintenance and accounting responsibilities. They are grateful for several great employees they consider the “MSM family.” They employ 13 full-time workers.
Achievements and accolades
King also participates as a member of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) and just finished the past year as president of the Illinois Association of Meat Processors (IAMP).
“These groups are the place to learn,” he contends. “We never intended to be a meat shop that sold just pork chops or offered low prices on chicken. It was our vision to offer many things in different formats, be it custom cut fresh meats, smoked, frozen or ready-to-eat dinners. We wanted to make everything we could in-house and to make our offerings better. We began entering state and national competitions in 2012. In the past five years we earned about 30 awards for our products.”
Their achievements are posted on their website, mainstreetmeat.com, and they take advantage of sharp colorful photographs that really show off their products.
When King says awards, he isn’t kidding. In late February, he returned home from the IAMP convention with some serious hardware for his efforts, including the Illinois Pork Producers Grand Champion award for innovative product (hickory smoked country ribs), the Illinois Beef Association Reserve Grand Champion award for Innovative Beef Products (a boil-in-the-bag smoked prime rib), the IAMP Grand Championship for uncured variety products (roasted prime rib) and Grand Championship for Barbecue (pit smoked baby back ribs) and another Reserve GC for his pulled pork barbecue, along with others.
“Our biggest problem is the concern we have about misinformation many customers and potential customers have about meats,” he says. “When they come in the door on Saturdays, we try to have an employee on hand to give out samples. They talk about the meats and often those folks buy those products they sampled. We train our employees how to talk to the customer and inform them about the products.
“We’ve offered customers a Best of the Wurst Meat 101 class in our shop. They get a tour of the processing area, learn to mix spices and make their own sausage. They also get lunch and 5 lbs. of the sausage or brats to take home. But the point is they go home more informed and know why better quality meats are worth the price. We’re planning one where customers can make their own summer sausage and bacon.”
These in-shop classes are usually limited to a dozen people and last about three hours. The sessions are promoted on their social media and to their store rewards club members, the Carnivore’s Club. They show videos of products being made and viewers are eligible to win a product that is being featured. Social media needs consistency, King contends, so the program always airs every Sunday at 7 p.m.
Under the name Farmer Joe’s, the family touts the fact that its meats are locally sourced and originate within a 20-mile radius of the shop, a theme that gathers a positive response from shoppers who want to know where their meat is raised.
Main Street also has a 30-seat eat-in or take-out cafe/deli. Busy Life Bistro is the brand name they gave their “ready-made” meals. “Home-made in our kitchen, ready-to serve in yours” is the Busy Life Bistro theme.
We’re not just talking a sub shop here, but rather prepared gourmet meals presented in transparent sealed top trays ready-to-eat or take home to pop a few holes in the top and microwave in minutes.
The enterprising shop offers Carol’s Kitchen, named after an employee who passed away. The cavalcade of selections is remarkable, and purchases help a fundraising program for local charities and culinary scholarships in the community of 10,500 residents.
Outdoor smokehouses offer enticement as well and indoors they sell barbecue and grilling equipment ranging from grills and wood pellet cookers, and their own wood pellets too. Barbecue supplies are also on display, with everything from aprons and cooking utensils to propane gas.
Main Street Meat Co. provides a vast selection of foods that can be picked up for catering events, with a range from single serving to multi-serving sizes. You name it, they probably have it.
Deer processing at the new shop has grown from about 40 a year at the start to nearly 500 a year currently. The company provides a nice selection of services from cutting game animals to sausage and other value-added meats.
King believes strongly in working with good equipment and has added a pair of smokehouses, a bowl chopper, vacuum stuffers, tray sealing machine and most recently a slicing machine.
“With the slicing system we brought in, we get great consistency and have to use less labor,” he points out. “When we get wholesale orders we are ready to go, fill it right now, and our added cold storage helps round out our capabilities to fill orders quickly and on time.”
So what lies around the corner for the King family? King believes a rollstock machine is in the future and feels that in three or four years they might be looking for one or two additional retail stores that will operate under their name and will be supplied by their main processing plant.
While Main Street Meats has a manifold selection of products, services and flavors, customers merely seeking a simple pork chop can get it there. But they should make sure they ask for the Iowa Chop – center cut, rib on a stick, barbecue, balsamic, chipotle cinnamon or butterfly. Any questions?