Flavoring beef – Nebraska couple markets their own beef seasoning
When Ben Mellor was put in charge of cooking 500 pounds of beef in a pit for Circle C Days at Cody, Neb., he took the job seriously.
Announcing to his wife, Pat, that he needed seasoning for the large quantity of meat, she promptly opened her seasoning cabinet and told him to have at it.
Neither knew that the mixture Ben developed that day would become a seasoning mix that has now been shipped to nearly every state, in addition to England, Germany and Holland.
Ben and Pat Mellor make their home in Valentine, Neb. In addition to marketing their own seasoning mixes, the Mellors raise registered and commercial Maine, Maine-Angus and Shorthorn cattle. The couple raise bulls and replacement heifers and market them private treaty and through cattle shows, like the Nebraska Cattleman’s Classic in Kearney.
Ben has always been interested in cooking. Serving as a mess sergeant in the Army, Ben was in charge of developing meals to serve his fellow soldiers. This experience helped provide him with the knowledge he needed to know what spices taste good together to develop the seasoning mix. The day he developed the mix, Ben said he started smelling and tasting different spices and putting them together in a bowl. The mixture he developed blended wonderfully together with the meat. He received several compliments the next day on how good it tasted.
Pat said the only change they have made to the seasoning mix since then was to reduce the amount of salt and they eliminated the MSG. After writing down the recipe for the mixture, Ben started making the mixture different times and giving it away to friends and neighbors.
By 1998, Pat found it was getting rather expensive to make the mixture and give it away, so she and Ben decided to look into marketing it. Working with the University of Nebraska, they found a processor, International Spices in Fremont, Neb., to start packaging it for them.
Ben and Pat first started marketing the seasoning through trade shows and cattle events. It is also sold in all the grocery stores in Valentine.
In the last few years, the couple has also developed a website, http://www.sandhillbens.com, for customers to order the seasonings. The website also has a few recipes Ben developed that utilize the seasoning.
The first seasoning they developed was the Original Mix. Later, one of Ben and Pat’s five daughters asked Ben to develop a garlic combination. After that, too, became a success, friends told Ben he needed a Cajun flavor.
Pat said she and Ben didn’t know what type of spices make up Cajun-flavored seasoning, so Pat talked with their county agent. She also had a hard time finding out what seasonings they needed, so she called a popular chef off of one of the television shows to ask. The chef wouldn’t say so she told him one of her clients had a food allergy that they thought was from Cajun seasoning and they needed to find out what particular spice was causing the allergy.
Ben and Pat were eventually able to make three to four different types of Cajun seasonings that they let friends try to determine which one they should market.
Today, Ben and Pat market three different seasonings: original, garlic and Cajun. The first trade show they attended was the Bassett Ranch Expo, where they also had a concession stand selling sandwiches with the seasoning on it.
“It went over really well,” Pat said, “but running a concession stand didn’t leave us much time to promote the seasonings.”
Since then, they have set up displays at the Douglas County Fair in Omaha, the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, the National Chili Cookoff in Omaha and a small business trade show in Scottsbluff. Some of these trade shows they only attended once because they didn’t feel they got the coverage needed.
“It really works well to promote our seasonings in places where you can hand out food samples,” Ben said. “But that isn’t possible in a lot of places because of the way the building is set up.”
When they are not promoting the seasonings or working with their cattle, Ben likes to collect bits and has a collection of over 100 displayed in the basement of his home.
Pat likes to attend auctions and purchase antique furniture, which she enjoys refurbishing.