The Hertzog family has raised beef in the Butler Mo., area “forever” according to the father and sons team of Jim, Todd, and Brian Hertzog. And now the family, and Todd specifically, have started a new beef venture by building an award-winning facility to process that cattle. Todd pointed out that growing cattle doesn’t necessarily equate to success in meat processing.
“It’s totally different people you’re dealing with, it’s a different side of the business, so there’s no correlation between the two to be honest with you,” Todd said.
Building a business
Conceptualization on the 14,000-square-foot processing facility began in 2019 and took approximately two years to complete. Todd spent a couple of years touring new plants and learning efficiency, technology, etc., but most importantly, quality. It was then that he knew he would need to act as the general contractor on construction.
“I realized that it was going to be on my shoulders,” Todd said. “Then I just did everything I could possibly do to make sure that it was done with maximum effort. That included placing every single floor drain, knowing exactly where every single switch was going on the rails.
“We had qualified, very skilled individuals that we hired along the way that were huge help, but we did not have a general contractor that came in and did that. We made every decision on basically everything that went into this place, it was all our decision, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.”
Todd’s abilities and can-do attitude paid off in multiple ways. The facility immediately won the Outstanding Mechanical Installation award from the Mechanical Contractor’s Association of Kansas City for New Processing Plant Refrigeration Under $2 million, as well as finishing construction quickly.
Once construction started, the plant was built and ready to process in seven months. The company started to custom process at the end of May 2021 and went to full USDA inspected processing in June of 2021. The decision to start processing after generations of raising cattle, however, was a process all its own.
The Hertzogs tried to get into local facilities for a long time to get their cattle processed but never had much luck. They were booked up, or they didn’t have the capacity, and if they did were still booked up. When they would get into to someplace there were inconsistencies.
“We decided we had the location to do it, we figured we were in a prime location just down the road from Kansas City, Bates County is not zoned so we didn’t have to pull any permits,” Todd said. “Start building. Done. I mean, it was that simple.”
Todd and his team looked at other places requiring permits, navigating planning and zoning committees, along with the politics involved, but decided to build where they felt comfortable.
“This right here, this is home for us,” Todd said. “This is where our stockyard is at, our grow yard, our feed yard, everything’s right here for us. It just made sense. The farm is right here. We connect to it.”
Currently Hertzog Meat Co. employs 29 full-time employees and delivers truckloads of quality beef weekly including several cut steaks, ground beef patties, and pork and bison. The foodservice channel receives most of those orders with the online shop just recently kicking off.
Serving local Beef
Hertzog Meat Co. has a partnership with US Foods and sends products to restaurants across Missouri and Kansas. Foodservice customers seek the kind of high-quality product Hertzog offers, and while the direct-to-consumer business gets started and grows organically, the company has plenty of foodservice business to keep it busy.
The company supplies beef to all the Red Door Grills, The Peanut (a popular bar and grill chain in Kansas City with a loyal following), 3rd Street Social, BRGR, Graham and Dunn on the Plaza (an upscale shopping area in Kansas City), Big Cedar Lodge and many others.
“Then there’s many more that serve our product across Kansas and Missouri that I don’t even know about,” Todd said. “There’s a ton of them in Westport [Kansas City] and a ton of them in Brookside [Kansas City]. We’re in all kinds of places. That guy back there cutting steaks, those 8 oz sirloin cuts are going to a place called Austin’s Bar and Grill over in Olathe and Overland Park. Those Prime Ribeyes back there are going to Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo.”
Hertzog meat can be purchased in the retail shop at the front of the facility, but you won’t find it in supermarkets or grocery stores. However, Mike Quick, partner and person in charge of sales, logistics and marketing (although quick to point out no one at Hertzog Meat Co. gets caught up in titles) is currently developing the company’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) business.
Quick and Hertzog want to grow the online business slowly and organically and make sure to dial in all the processes of the e-commerce business without getting too far ahead of themselves. There will always be a few small hiccups that come along with new endeavors, but it’s all part of working out the kinks. The company currently follows a marketing strategy supporting that slow organic growth.
“Just like the whole process with the plant, we don’t want to rush, we don’t want to take off sprinting out of the gates and get ahead of ourselves,” Quick said. “I mean, our website is live right now and you can go on and order, but we haven’t really gone loud with it being out there yet.”
Single-digit orders per day that Quick fills by hand and ships out via FedEx are working for the company at the moment. The ability to handle the online orders and pay attention to the details and slowly grow the channel give Hertzog the advantage as DTC demand grows. Quick pays close attention to packaging, the shipping accuracy, and the welcome letter from Hertzog Meat Co. that goes out with every order. Doing all the little things right and delivering a quality product the right way matters to the company.
“We don’t want 50 orders showing up at once right now,” Quick said. “We are slowly working our way to being able to handle that demand. But the good news is our online strategy is simple and its working. We’ve got a starter package called the ‘meat and greet.’ It’s got a little bit of everything for our customers to try, and they can add on some prime filets and prime ribeye, which is what people are doing. Once you have a taste you keep coming back for more because now you’ve experienced the difference between our product and what you get at your local grocery store.”
Todd’s father and owner of Hertzog Farms, Jim, points out again that quality comes from being hands on.
“So, the main difference is we’re doing it,” Jim said. “We see any mistake when it goes in the box. If we don’t like it, we take it out. You don’t get a vein steak, you don’t get one that’s cut wrong or not trimmed properly because we do it right here, from beginning to end. So, it’s all quality control, and we care about what we do 100%.”
Hertzog Meat Co. raises its own cattle through Hertzog Farms or sources it from a very select few producers. It uses only Angus cattle and only specific genetics within the Angus breed. The company also processes hogs and some bison occasionally.
“We’re the sole processor for Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s owner Johnny Morris’, Premier Bison Meat Company, Todd said. “We do all his bison processing and have a great relationship.”
Hertzog prides itself on the quality and flavor of every product it offers. It achieves this goal in a number of ways. “We dry age full sides of beef, all graded” Todd said. “All of our product is USDA stamped, antibiotic and hormone free, and hand cut daily.”
Todd toured many of the nicest processing facilities around the United States, including a visit to Texas A&M’s Meat Science department. He learned that the way you cool a carcass and your process for refrigeration makes one of those key differences. The science proves there is a big difference in quality and taste between doing those things right and doing them wrong.
Getting things done the right way
Avoiding the supply chain disruptions right at the completion of construction is not the only common pitfall in meat processing Hertzog has avoided. Although labor continues to be difficult to obtain and retain across all business, Hertzog has had nothing but good luck staffing a single shift Monday through Friday with almost zero turnover.
“I’ve only lost one employee since I started,” Todd said. “But you’ve got to pay them what they are worth and treat them right.”
On the labor front, Hertzog’s top priority before opening was to pay wages that are better than fair to ensure the best employees came to work and stayed. The company has been able to recruit some of the best in the business with ample experience.
“I’ve got two new hires in the last couple of months, guys with over 80 years’ experience combined,” Todd said. “They’ve been doing it for 40 years.”
Hertzog’s beef is in so many restaurants and getting noticed that a diner who had a filet at Big Cedar Lodge and saw the “proudly serving premium local beef from Hertzog Meat Co.” stamp on the menu sought the company out to connect them with a top chef and restaurateur in the Springfield, Mo., area.
“She called our store and told me that she requested to talk to the chef after dinner and asked about the filet. He seasoned it with just salt and pepper,” Quick said. “She said it was one of the top five filets she had ever had. Then she asked if she could come visit on a Saturday, and we met her up here. She toured the facility then purchased filets, rib eyes, strips and burger patties for the head chef of a different restaurant in Springfield. She paid for every bit of it. She’s doing all the work for us just because she loved the taste and quality of our product so much. And now we’re talking to the head chef trying to figure out if we can make this work.”
It’s the reason foodservice is the main segment until the online business starts to take off more. Foodservice really wants the local premium beef, and as long as that’s the case, Hertzog Meat Co. is ready and willing to produce, process, and cut it for them.
“When you go to an actual restaurant and sit down with an owner who wants to buy local beef, they have your best interests in mind, as well as their customers’,” Todd said. “They’re the ones that are driving it because they know that quality matters. That’s what keeps people coming back time and time again.”