Drive south from St. Paul, Minn., on US Highway 52 and about 20 minutes later you’ll get a real education in how to build and operate a successful small meat-processing business.
You can’t miss the gigantic twin billboard signs or the gleaming building that’s home to Greg’s Meat Processing in Hampton, Minn.
Owner Greg Endres was pressed into service after his father died at the age of 58, leaving behind a widow with a 260-acre farm and 10 children to raise. Greg, who had worked as a meat cutter for Red Owl and Super Value stores in the Twin Cities area, vowed to help out his mother and came up with the idea of building a locker plant.
“I wanted to buy two acres from her,” he recalls, “but the ground I wanted use for the building she wasn’t selling. She told me to buy the two acres on the other side of the road where the corn doesn’t grow.”
Greg took his mom’s advice in 1978 and, with the help of three siblings, built a 30-ft. by 80-ft. custom processing shop and sold fresh meats. He’s the first to admit that he wasn’t going flat broke, he was already there.
A few older German sausage-makers who worked for him and a veteran inspector encouraged him to start making sausage. The Germans gave him some recipes and showed him how to make those products and that seemed to pull the 23-year-old Endres out of the financial hole.
By 1991 he was able to expand with a retail store that served to spotlight his sausages. Just six years later, Greg added a second smokehouse and more room for sausage production. The expansions have continued as the enterprise has doubled in size in the past six years to 13,000 sq. ft. Included were new holding pens for livestock, a sausage kitchen, storage area and a pair of homemade stone gravity smokehouses.
He recently added an Enviro-Pak two-truck smokehouse, but for competition curing he still relies on a small, older Enviro-Pak smoker that “I can control 100 percent.”
The plant custom kills 14 head of cattle and 20 hogs weekly and buys packer beef and pork for its value-added products and fresh-meat sales.
But the real story lies in how Greg learned from others and began producing award-winning cured meats. His shop has won more than 200 state and national awards for its products, including a first national grand championship for beef jerky in Milwaukee in 1985. He has since added national grand championships in summer sausage, hot dogs, ring bologna and smoked turkey.
“After winning that top award, I was making 500 lbs. a week and selling it all on a regular basis. That really turned the business around.”
As his website (www.gregsmeats.com) proclaims, the shop churns out 18 different flavors and styles of bratwurst and 14 varieties of summer sausage. The brats come in flavors such as mushroom and Swiss, Philly, pizza, blueberry with wild rice and Duane’s chili dogs. Jerky at Greg’s Meat Processing comes in six versions, with a dozen flavors of snack sticks.
The jerky joins wieners and summer sausage as his signature items. This cornfield-based retail store sells nearly 600 lbs. of its hot dogs each week.
A growing business
The business has grown to 25 employees (18 full-timers). Greg’s wife, Sharon, and son, Duane, 30, handle most of the sausage production. A partner, Tom Latuff, Duane and Greg’s other son, Andy, 25, have become adept at running all facets of the operation, including slaughter and processing.
The plant also has its own bakery, featuring rolls, breads and cookies. It relies on pre-formulated doughs that simplify the production. Greg says the bakery is barely profitable, but it helps sales of grill-type meats because of the fresh smell that captures customers’ senses when they walk into the store.
Greg’s retail efforts focus on convenience. Clear signage in front of each row of summer sausage, snack sticks and other products identify the product for customers, who don’t have to pick through and read the smaller package labels.
A 24-ft. fresh-meat and deli case offers a selection of deli salads, most of which are made in the plant. Also available are six types of sandwich meats, including an Italian wine salami and braunschweigert.
All four walls are lined with products and the ever-present cured meat award plaques that seem like they were built into the décor. Open bunker freezers display many other meat items in the center of the retail area.
About two-thirds of the sales volume is retail, with sausage representing 40 percent of that business and fresh meats represent 45 percent. Custom processing carries 25 percent of the plant volume.
Greg’s Meat Processing offers gift boxes and meat and cheese trays that do well during holidays, graduation parties and similar events.
“We get calls from large companies who want to have us prepare food for a party or program they are having,” he says. “When we do them, it has a domino effect with new people trying our products and coming here to shop in the future.”
Greg says he doesn’t really call himself a caterer, but adds: “If they are having a big event, I’ll prepare nearly anything they ask for in volume.”
A helping hand
Reflecting on how he got started and moved forward with help from others, Greg says he is readily available to assist other processors. He’s been called on to do presentations and demonstrations at state and national processor meetings and feels it’s one way he can give something back.
His curing skills and willingness to assist others have grown so much over the years that in 2007, he was inducted into the prestigious Cured Meat Hall of Fame by the American Association of Meat Processors, a group he once represented as a national director.
For the future, Greg says he is looking forward to his sons buying into the business…as long as it’s along the road “where the corn doesn’t grow!”