New butcher shop fills a need, pushes ND meat
MOFFIT, N.D. — When he was growing up and working on the family farm in Burleigh County, Travis Schweitzer had a knack for butchering.
"I kind of took to it," he says.
After he got out of school, Schweitzer worked at an area dairy and for other ranchers, then later started up in the construction business. But the idea of a butcher shop never left his mind.
"Many, many years ago, I almost bought a small little butcher shop south of Mandan," he says. "But that didn't work out, and I'm kind of glad it didn't."
Schweitzer has no regret for that lost opportunity because of the new opportunity that awaited him on the 40-acre plot his family bought near Moffit, in Burleigh County, a few years ago.
Schweitzer's Gourmet Meats opened up in January, offering state-inspected slaughter facilities, as well as full-service processing.
The venture involves Travis' wife, Trina, and their seven children, who range in age from 18 down to 2, as well as Travis' brother Todd Schweitzer and nephew Luke Schweitzer. Schweitzer also lauds the staff they've put together, including Ivan Ayea, with 22 years of butchering experience.
Schweitzer says his kids were part of his construction business, learning to pour concrete and build houses and barns, and now they're learning to "cut up a steer."
"They should never starve," he says.
Filling a need
Dr. Andrea Grondahl, State Meat Inspection Director at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, says Schweitzer's Gourmet Meats became the sixth official state slaughter facility in North Dakota. That means an inspector is on hand from the time an animal comes into the facility until its carcass is in the cooler, and the business has plans for how they slaughter and for their sanitation.
There also are several additional facilities that slaughter under federal inspection, however Grondahl says the state has been underserved in terms of inspected slaughter facilities. She gets regular calls from ranchers looking for inspected slaughter facilities.
"We have not had a new plant in quite some time," she says. "It was just really nice to see that (Schweitzer's Gourmet Meats) did have the interest in that and decided to go inspected."
That lack of inspected slaughter facilities taking live animals was a big part of why the Schweitzer's decided to set up shop. As Schweitzer talked to area ranchers about the venture, they usually had one comment: How soon can you get it opened?
"From the day we opened up, we kind of got full and have been full ever since," Schweitzer says.
"It was one of those areas that didn't have a lot of activity going on," she says about the business's location.
North Dakota does have many "custom exempt" slaughter facilities, which means a business can slaughter animals for livestock owners or hunters and return all meat to the customer, Grondahl says. There also are many "retail exempt" facilities, in which further processing can be done to purchased boxed beef.
The advantage official state slaughter facilities have, Grondahl explains, is they can slaughter animals and sell the product in their own stores.
Since the Schweitzer's decided to go that route, they can offer the community opportunities to purchase North Dakota-raised meat.
"That's kind of our niche. We can actually show the people where the meat came from," Schweitzer says.
While they sell some meat out of the coolers at the main plant in Moffit, Schweitzer's Gourmet Meats earlier this month opened up an outlet store in Bismarck on North Washington Street. Luke Schweitzer is running that operation, and, while it's in it's early stages, Schweitzer says the new store has sold about a beef a week that was slaughtered and processed in Moffit, along with boxed beef and other goods.
For right now, Schweitzer's Gourmet Meats is not an official state processing facility. Facilities with that designation can sell meat at wholesale, Grondahl says. Schweitzer says that may be a consideration down the road, but for now they're taking "baby steps." Schweitzer's also is a "retail exempt" facility so that they can further process and sell some inspected boxed meat.
So far, they've had enough suppliers of beef, but if the store grows, they may be open to buying more from local ranchers. Schweitzer says they want to provide a variety of options, grass-fed, grain-fed and all natural among them. Consumers can buy whole beefs, half beefs, quarter beefs and soon will be able to purchase "bundles" with a variety of meat varieties at the store in Bismarck.
Purchasing meat in bulk, while requiring a large initial investment, yields substantial savings in the long run, basically providing steaks and roasts at hamburger price. And Schweitzer says that for someone with the freezer space, the North Dakota beef he sells will be a good buy.
"There's something special about the North Dakota-raised stuff," he says. "We raise the best stuff in the world right here."
For more information on Schweitzer's Gourmet Meats, go to www.schweitzermeats.com/.