NWSS Stockyards Beef Festival is ‘crazy good idea’
First annual event buzzes with sell-out crowd
The first annual Stockyards Beef Festival took place during the 2023 National Western Stock Show on Thursday evening, Jan. 12. Inviting legacy stock show beef producers to showcase their private label product in the form of sample plates, along with bringing a few open yearling heifers with impeccable genetics to stand at auction in the middle of the event, was a one-of-a-kind way to present a variety of good beef from hoof to plate. Given current consumer demand to know where their beef comes from and how it was raised, the NWSS event aimed to connect that demographic with producers in its own yards. Pairing the private label beef with boutique wine producers served to widen its appeal.
“I think this is just a crazy good idea,” said NWSS President and CEO Paul Andrews. “I got a call a year ago about this concept from Brent Lonker (of Lonker Ranch in south central Kansas). He said I’ve got this idea to bring some legacy producers here with four or five animals that we can auction off and pair it with dinner and wine for around $50. What do you think? And I said, Brent, I think you’re a genius,” finished Andrews with a laugh.
“The market is exploding,” explained Brent Lonker about why he organized the event. “People are almost begging to get their beef from where it is raised and not from the store. And they want to know how it is raised. We are all about that, so we decided let’s also bring our beef (to the NWSS). We spend so much money bringing our cattle here, but the most important thing we do is sell our product to the consumer.”
Their instincts were correct, as the Witwer Memorial Show Arena in the yards hosted a sold-out throng excited to sample beef and wine from five different tables. A thoughtful feature included the beef samples representing not only different cuts but different breeds of cattle. Visitors savored “angus influenced” Charolais, purebred Angus, purebred Hereford, a combination of those breeds and even some Gyulais (Wagyu/Charolais).
“I think it is a great event and it helps give us a very large exposure,” said Juli Figone, the marketing partner for BR Beef in Gilroy, Calif. Figone was helping owner Robert Bianchi and crew serve up angus influenced Charolais New York strip steak at the first table. “There are a lot of people here from the Denver area that are not too sure what is going on in the real, behind the scenes of the beef industry, so it is nice to be able to talk with them and bust a lot of myths.”
Another table feverishly keeping up with demand for its 45-day dry aged, registered Angus ribeye was Connealy Angus from the Nebraska sandhills. With a reputation honed by Jerry and Sharon Connealy into a pinnacle producer of purebred Angus genetics, the Connealy family had daughter Hannah develop their Connealy Angus Meat Market private label brand, which they brought to the NWSS’ beef festival. Between serving up their entire 40 pounds of ribeye and hustling throughout the arena taking payment and filling orders for their aged beef, the Connealy’s thought the inaugural NWSS event exceeded expectations.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” said Sharon during a pause in filling plates. “We can connect with folks who don’t understand what we do and this helps those folks feel comfortable with who we are. We are not corporate. We are families.”
“We are thrilled with how it is going,” agreed Hannah between delivering cooler bags of their beef to new customers. “We are excited to meet the people we are feeding and for them to be able to talk to us. People are becoming more concerned with the environmental piece of it and they can feel really good about how we have sustainably and ecologically raised that steak. The people I sold to were transplants from Brooklyn and Manhattan and the east coast and Denver. They were the folks we wanted to connect with. I had great conversations with people that know nothing about ranching and that is exactly what we wanted.”
“We knew this event had the opportunity to reach a lot of people, but you can only hope an event has a start like this,” said Jenn Boka, NWSS director of livestock operations, while working the enthusiastic crowd. “Nothing feels better than getting these kinds of people together. This is phenomenal.”
Helping to make it phenomenal was a Colorado winemaker named Ben Justman. His Peony Lane Vineyards western slope winery was invited to sample out his natural wines from sourced grapes that are fermented using his own yeast and then aged onsite, along with marketing his Estate Pinot Noir from a high elevation vineyard that his father planted in the early 2000s. Typically selling in ski-town farmers markets, he appreciated working an event with private label beef producers.
“It is a perfect pairing here,” said Justman about the event’s boutique wine seller/private label beef combo. “I mostly do sales through farmers markets to people that want to connect with their farmer. These are great people here that are producing great stuff.”
“That is why I thought it was such a cool idea,” said Andrews about the high-quality beef producers Justman noticed. “The ranches that have brought stock here are legacy stock show exhibitors. I just think this will take off and become as big as we possibly can get it, in here.”
“It wasn’t easy, but it was sure worth it,” said Lonker as the large crowd departed for home. “There were some (cattle producing) leaders that stepped up. The Connealy family stepped up immediately. They share the vision of connecting the cattle and the beef together, but there were just a lot of folks stepping up. All the credit to the NWSS,” Lonker added. “They saw the vision from the top on down.”
Looking ahead, that vision sees this new Stockyards Beef Festival growing larger and getting even better.
Producers at the 2023 Stockyards Beef Festival:
BEEF: BR Beef, LLC, Gilroy Calif. — Certified Hereford Beef, Kansas City, Mo. — Connealy Angus Meat Market, Whitman, Neb. — Bill King Ranch, Stanley N.M. — Legacy Custom Meats, LeGrange, Texas
WINE: Ancient Peaks Winery, Santa Margarita, Calif. — Kunde Family Winery, Kenwood, Calif. — Peony Lane Vineyards, Paonia, Colo. — Rune Wines, Sonoita, Ariz. — Spero Winery, Denver, Colo.
OPEN HEIFERS at Auction: Connealy Angus — Holden Herefords — Linsdskov’s LT Ranch Charolais — Triangle J Ranch Simmental.