How did you start with a meat locker in Nebraska and end up opening American Butchers at the Dallas Farmers Market? When my husband, Calvin, and I retired from the military, we moved to Nebraska. Our new friends were all farmers and ranchers, but they kept being forced to move because they couldn’t compete with 20, 25 head a herd. The packers and processors would only have one contract with big ranches and big lots.
What was your solution? The local preacher from town literally came knocking on our door. He says, “OK, you kids, you want to help the community? There’s this 1970s locker down in Beaver City that is for sale.” I was like, “What the hell’s a locker? A gym locker?” It was actually a meat processing locker.
Did you have any idea what you were doing? Being in the military, you go into Third World countries, and you’re always trying to find a solution of building a community. After serving as the first woman commander of an Apache helicopter unit, I guess you just kind of get a little confident.
Hold up. You were the first female commander of a helicopter unit? Yup. I was a company commander. We trained at Fort Hood and then deployed over to South Korea. We were about 25 kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone. We were the most forward-deployed Apache battalion at the time.
Why did you leave the military? I miss it every day, but our kids were depending on us. On September 11, they were just little guys—4 and 3. That’s when we made the promise that when we could retire we would, because after carrying them through the battlefield of the Pentagon, we were like, this is not what we signed up for.
Good Lord! The kids were in day care at the Pentagon? Yes. I was supposed to drop off library books that morning, but I decided, oh, I’ve got too much to do; I’ll just drop them off later. And thank God I did, because the library was shot. The plane came right into there and took care of that. We turned out fine, but it totally altered our way of thinking and made us realize how precious life is.
Back to the meat locker. What happened with that? With my background in the military, I’m safety-focused. So we became certified as the smallest USDA facility in the country. But there are four cows to every person in Nebraska, so we realized we needed to sell outside the state. We had lived in Fort Hood, we liked it down here, and someone told us about the Farmers Market.
So you decided Dallas was the right place to land? For three years, we started researching and figuring out what it would take to come down here. Now we’re like a modern-day cattle drive. We get animals from six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, and Nebraska. My husband drives the trucks down with the meat, so it stays fresh. We process them, we hang them, age them, and then we break them down into primal cuts. And then we cut to order. If you want a 2-inch steak, a quarter-inch steak, we do all of it.
And now you can grill it, too? We opened American Butchers last July, and then the spot for Beyond the Butcher came open and we got it. You can pick out your steak and we’ll cook it for you. Now you get to taste everything before you buy it. That wasn’t in our original plan. Literally farm to plate.
Sounds like it’s been quite a flight. It’s the craziest business model. People want to replicate it, but I’m like, you’re not going to do it because you want to make money. I’m not in it to make money. I’m in it to save farm and ranching families. That’s the difference.