On the western outskirts of Des Moines, in the community of Waukee, Iowa, meat-loving consumers are turning their sights to a former auto sales and service building that is quickly earning a reputation for quality meat products with a heavy reliance on local livestock production.

Nick Lenters, the 44-year-old owner of Old Station Craft Meats could be called a ‘newbie’ to the trade, except for the fact that he and his brother Adam have been raising and tending to livestock on their nearby family farm since they were youngsters. Nick wanted to apply his business acumen to a new and different venture.

“I felt I wasn’t contributing much to the livestock raising activity,” Nick said. “I went to the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and earned an MBA. Then Adam and I decided we could try to pair up our different skill sets and move into the retailing and wholesaling of beef and other meat products. In January of 2020 we purchased a building that was over 100 years old in the historic triangle area of Waukee. It had been a floral shop, and later an auto dealership and body shop, and even later a service station. We gutted the 2,900 square-foot structure and reopened it late that year as a meat shop with heavy emphasis on marketing locally produced and crafted meats.”

Rough start

Nick said it was challenging to start a new business during the height of the pandemic. But the fact that most supermarkets in the Des Moines area had meat counters that were virtually empty spurred them on.

“I was surprised that in an area with so much livestock production that there was so little meat in the major stores,” he explained. “I was fortunate from day one to have a lead butcher who really knew the ropes. Calvin Schnucker was the right guy at the right time for us. I had gone into a local locker plant to learn how to market and merchandise meats. We were a team that bonded from the beginning.”

Today Old Station Craft Meats is staffed with seven full-time employees and three part timers. This includes Nick’s wife Suzanne and two teenage sons. The shop has about a 50-50 ratio of retail area and production space. The decor also reflects vestiges of the building’s history.

Last year the company doubled its cooler storage, and this year’s plans include increasing the freezer storage area.

So, what made this start-up business take off like a Harrier jet? They operate under Iowa Department of Agriculture jurisdiction and early this year hope to go under the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program, which would allow state-inspected meats that parallel US Department of Agriculture rules and standards to ship products into other states.

Nick credits the team’s understanding of livestock marketing and knowing that all the meat should be used to earn a better return on sales. He works with several nearby locker plants that handle slaughter and Old Station Craft Meats receives products from them as sides and quarters.

“We try to put out new cuts that customers are not used to seeing,” he explained. “We want to teach them how to prepare and cook them. I would call it open communications with our shoppers. It may be hard to do but believe me, it is worth it when you have an informed shopper who knows where their meats are coming from and how to cook the cuts properly.”

OSCM 2 smaller.jpgEmpty local meat cases in a high livestock production area helped convince Nick and Adam Lenters to pursue retailing and wholesaling meat products. (Source: Verdigris Photography and Design)


All-around messaging

A quick lesson on what Nick is talking about appears on the website, oldstationcraftmeats.com. On this site there are plenty of brief and easy-to-follow recipes for everything from prime rib to tri-tips.

This newcomer to meat merchandising uses the website to inform visitors about the source of the company’s meats. It displays photos of the families who raised the livestock and the location of the farms. While the emphasis is on locally raised meats, Nick said there are some items that he must source from different states to maintain the quality of what he sells. For example, he sources air-chilled chicken from Pennsylvania.

“There are many restaurants and clubs in our region,” he noted. “Almost all of them want to offer locally produced foods and we offer them special recipes or meat cuts in the sizes or portions they want. We want to offer them training like we do with our individual customers so they are informed and can serve up the best product for every meal. That includes promoting other locally grown non-meat ingredients.”

Old Station Craft Meats is also a dealer for the Big Green Egg family of grills and smokers. Not only do they have an array of rubs, sauces and seasonings to go with the meats they sell, but they also want to have their customers’ finished product turn out so good that they come back for more. They do sampling of new meat cuts when they wheel one of those Big Green Egg units outside and let the smoke and meat whet customers’ appetites. Their grills sell more meats, and their meats sell more grills.

OsCM 3 smaller.jpgSource: Verdigris Photography and Design


The shop features beef, poultry, pork and makes 90 of its own multi-ingredient meat specialties. For holidays or festive days, they came up with limited-time items such as Irish bangers or Swedish potato brats. They feature both grass-raised and grain-finished beef as well as A5 Wagyu.

Promotion minded as they can be, Old Station Craft Meats promotes on Facebook and Instagram, and supports the county 4-H Club and other educational groups, including one program in which they donated pigs’ feet to students pursuing medical careers to polish their suturing skills. They also plan to bolster their fundraising options for non-profit organizations.

When they begin operating under the CIS program, Nick said they want to ship products nationwide from their website and hope to move into more private labeling for local farmers and make value-added items like snack sticks and shelf stable items that their customers can sell to convenience stores.

Currently the shop’s volume is about 70% retail and about 30% wholesale and private labeling.

This past fall, the business began accepting boneless wild game meats which they turn into summer sausages, bolognas and snack sticks and they report being pleased with the response.

As for the future, Nick said they plan to focus on more automation in the coming year, with new grinding, stuffing and vacuum packaging as part of its plans for expansion in the private labeling area.