Custom Butcher Shop to Benefit Abilene Community

Friday, April 08, 2022

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The Farm-to-Table movement typically focuses on the benefits to the consumer. While that certainly is one end goal for the Leith family and Midwest Meats of Abilene, Kansas, it is truly much more. 

“Our intent is to bring local producers and consumers together with a small, local community-based meat processing plant,” said Bryan Leith. “There has been a need here for a while and, especially right in the middle of cow country, Abilene should have its own custom butcher shop.”

Leith and his family plan to open Midwest Meats as a custom butcher shop in downtown Abilene this spring, offering local consumers the opportunity to purchase local meats either through retail or custom processing. The operation is truly a family endeavor, with Leith’s parents involved in ownership, Bryan leading the daily operations for retail service and custom processing, older brother Leroy will be involved with recipe design and product development and younger sister Morgan will be directly involved with customer management and social media marketing. The kids grew up in the Abilene area but all moved away for college and work.

“We were looking to move back to be more involved with the family,” he said. “We decided to collaborate on this business and bring our skill set back to the community.”

That skill set includes Bryan’s involvement for more than five years in management operations with HyVee, developing a feel for creative retail presentation through the old-fashioned butchers there. Leroy has a decade of meat industry experience in actual cutting and retail processing with multiple companies in the Midwest. Morgan rounds out their experience with handling customer management, covering everything from graphic design to customer relations.

Midwest Meats Mobile UnitCreative Process

While the family is currently renovating the old Kung Po Buffet building in downtown Abilene, their path to this point required creative thinking. They always wanted a location amidst the downtown activity, but zoning regulations were not compatible with harvesting operations. So they worked with a small Colorado business to build a mobile harvesting unit that includes a kill floor, railing and a hoist system in a 24-foot trailer that can be pulled with a heavy-duty pickup. They can harvest livestock at a farm, hang and wash a carcass in the trailer and transport it to their Abilene facility, where it can be loaded onto a rail system in their building. From there, it can be brought to their processing floor to cut, rack, pack and transfer products directly into a freezer or to their retail counter. They plan to target beef, pork and lamb products, but not poultry, due to a higher risk of contamination. 

“We are heavily into rebuilding and demolition now,” said Leith.  “It's an exciting process replacing air ducts, reframing and installing new carpet and tile.”

Sustainable community

A craft butcher shop and custom processing in Abilene can offer benefits from a pricing standpoint because working with local farmers can keep prices down. Additionally, customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about the life cycle of the meat they purchase. But there is a benefit to local farmers and other shops in Dickinson County as well.

“A local butcher shop in Abilene can alleviate the stress of local shops on other nearby communities and help the community support itself,” he said. “Targeting partners with similar moral ethics involves local owners, businesses and consumers to help the overall community be sustainable with healthy, quality products at reasonable prices.”

Focused on opening

With a planned opening this spring, the Leiths hope to proceed gradually, learning how to develop a rhythm with bringing in carcasses at their dock, processing them in-house and delivering quality products to their freezer or retail counter efficiently. They anticipate starting with about five employees but increasing if necessary. The town has responded with a good amount of anticipation, building a customer base through word-of-mouth and Facebook so far. Leith said they plan to use social media to their advantage, not only finding unique ways to draw customers in but educating them as well.

Midwest Meats Equipment“We will offer YouTube tutorials to educate anyone from the do-it-yourselfers to small processors on how to cut subprimals and convert them to steaks, roasts, snack sticks and other items, along with how to prepare them as well.” 

The entire process has been exciting up to this point, said Leith, and he expects that to continue as they approach their opening. 

“We are proud to build something from scratch that benefits our area,” he said.  “With the support from the community, there is no stopping us!”

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