Tucked away in a small strip center in northeast Springfield, the owners of American Meat Co. have quietly built the 61-year-old butcher shop into a $1 million enterprise.
Started in 1959 by Duane Hesterley, the shop does custom butchering of beef and pork products for wholesale and retail customers. It called 3103 E. Sunshine St. home for its entire existence until 2017, says owner Jason Owen. That’s when the company moved to 1845 E. Turner St., Ste. A, off the corner of Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street.
The location change wasn’t by choice.
“Well, for one, they were tearing our building down to build that First Watch,” Owen says, referring to the cafe chain that opened its second Springfield restaurant in 2019.
Owen noted the move hasn’t hurt business, as the company has averaged $1 million in revenue for the past several years. Since 2013, when Owen took over ownership from his father Richard Owen, peak annual revenue hit $1.4 million.
Housed in a former Payless ShoeSource store, Owen says it took roughly four months and $70,000 to prepare the northeast-side space, including installation of a freezer and coolers.
Now, the new site could work in his favor in an unexpected way. The American Meat store currently looks out on a construction zone for development of a BigShots Golf LLC franchise. That could bring a lot more eyes to his business from those visiting the entertainment-themed golf driving range set to open later this year.
All about the meat
Inside the shop, customers aren’t greeted by meat in display cases. The cases sit empty as retail products, such as rubs, sauces and seasonings, sit atop one of them and on adjacent shelving.
Behind a swinging door, orders are processed – cut to the exact size of customers’ specifications, Owen says.
The shop is federally inspected daily, due to product shipped across state lines, as well as to health care facilities such as Mercy Hospital Springfield. That means it has to observe all federal holidays and can only operate when health inspectors are on the clock: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday.
“All we do is beef and pork,” he says, pointing to freshly ground beef, sausage, pork chops, brisket and rib eye steaks. “We can’t do any cooked products whatsoever.”
Aged beef is a big focus.
“I try not to let anything go out of here unless I’ve had it at least three weeks,” he says. “Sometimes that’s hard to do because we kind of get overwhelmed every now and then.”
From package to plate
American Meat Co. has built its business entirely on word of mouth, Owen says, with a wholesale client list around 40. A number of those are restaurants, including Lindberg’s Tavern, W.F. Cody’s and Anton’s Coffee Shop. Past restaurants such as Shady Inn and Johnny Loos also are part of the company’s customer history, he says.
American Meat Co. has been in the Owens’ family since the 1980s, when Richard Owen bought it from its founder. Prior to the move three years ago, Jason Owen says wholesale represented 80% of meat sales, with retail around 20%.
“Once I moved over here, I kind of wanted to hit the retail side of it a little more. It’s actually done very well,” he says, noting retail has reached about 40% of sales today. “I can see it surpassing our wholesale.”
Mark Melton, owner of Packers Distributing Co., says he’s been doing business with American Meat Co. as one of its suppliers since 1976. Melton’s company supplies meat for Owen every week and the butcher shop handles some of the precut meat orders for Packers’ restaurant and grocery store clients.
“If we’re not delivering to them every day, he’s picking an order up at my facility,” Melton says, declining to disclose weekly order volumes. “He’s no doubt in my top 10 best customers. Fresh meat is 95% of what he does for me, and that’s to handle processing.”
Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema connected with American Meat Co. prior to opening its Springfield theater in 2017.
Alamo utilizes the company’s products for one of its burgers, as well as a pork loin sandwich, says Jeremy Story, kitchen manager.
“We were looking for something for our Ozarks’ Mountain burger,” he says, adding the theater’s weekly order from American Meat Co. averages between 170-200 pounds. “Their ground beef is a great steak product. It can’t be beat.”
Owen says the company’s hamburger quality comes from grinding its excess trimmings of rib eyes, filets and top sirloin, and mixing it with ground chuck. Ground beef, rib eyes and bacon are its biggest sellers, estimating he runs through about 20,000 pounds of all meat products every week.
The front section of the store includes grills, smokers, grilling pellets and branded clothing. It’s not a focus of the business, mostly serving to offer a little variety to customers, Owen says. Miscellaneous product sales average $500 per week, equating to 2% of total revenue.
“Everything else is just meat,” he says. “I still keep this as simple as possible, like my dad did.”
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