Where’s the (local) beef? Weld restaurants see more requests for locally raised meat
It’s easier to eat local beef in Colorado than other states because the beef industry is so large in Colorado. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado sees 2.65 million head of cattle each year, valued at $2.8 billion. The current concept of feedlots and packing houses used in the U.S. today began in Greeley, with the well-known Monfort family. Colorado is now home to 11,600 farms with cattle and calves. That state has 206 feedlots and 24 USDA certified slaughter plants. It is the fourth-largest exporter of fresh and frozen beef in the U.S.
Source: Colorado Department of Agriculture
Dave Ellicott processes meat for many area farmers, and lately he’s been getting calls and visits from restaurant managers asking how they can get that meat in their restaurants. He’s more than happy to make the introduction.
Connecting local restaurateurs to local farmers and ranchers is a growing piece of Ellicott’s business, Innovative Foods, 4320 Industrial Parkway, in Evans.
Ellicott estimates he created relationships between about 20 restaurants and locally raised and processed meat in the last five years, and he expects more in the next five. Many of those are in Denver and Fort Collins, but it’s a growing scene in Greeley, too.
“We play that role of ‘farm to fork’ facilitator,’” he said. “We’re the intermediary. We connect farmers with interested food service. Then they know the farm, they know the farmer, so they know who they’re buying the food from.”
Ellicott said he doesn’t know specifically why it’s become more important to consumers recently, but he does know the demand for local products has shot up in the last five years.
“They’re interested in fresh, local, natural meat products,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in people wanting to buy close to home.”
He said it isn’t just Greeley or northern Colorado. Locally raised meat, veggies and ingredients are a growing niché in the food service industry, even at the grocery store.
“You’ve got natural organic food sections inside the big grocery stores that you never used to see,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in people wanting to buy close to home.”
Phil Wicke, plant manager at Double J Meatpacking in Pierce, said there’s a big demand for it.
“I think it’s mostly people are looking for stuff that’s different about the meat,” he said. Consumers are becoming more picky about specifics, such as the age of the meat, how the cow is fed and its origin. “I see more and more people getting into it. I think people are seeing it out there and wanting to try it.”
When it comes to buying meat for the Chophouse, owner Tim Veldhuizen is most concerned about choosing the best quality cuts of beef and lamb — that’s why he likes the local options.
When Veldhuizen first opened the Chophouse, 804 8th St., he said he wasn’t aiming to serve local meat — again, quality was the main concern — but after looking around, he realized that local was actually the best option.
“JBS approached me and said, ‘We would really like to feature our top line meat at your chophouse.’ But more so than local, what I was looking for was quality,” he said, which JBS had. “It was like an added bonus that they were a Greeley company.”
When people come to a steakhouse in Greeley — an infamous “cow town” — they should expect the best.
“Greeley is a steak town, it’s a beef town and I think that’s something to be proud of,” Veldhuizen said.
The Aspen Ridge program is JBS’s top of the line meat that comes from farms in Colorado and the surrounding states. The meat comes at a premium price because of both quality and proximity.
The cows are raised on special ranches, and then brought to the Kersey feedlot to finish. There, they have a special no-hormones, no-antibiotics diet. When they’ve grown to the right size, they’re processed at the JBS packing plant in downtown Greeley.
Veldhuizen said more customers in both restaurants and grocery stores want to know the origin of the meat they purchase.
“For some people they don’t really care about the meat — they just want to have a good meal,” he said. “But other people are becoming a lot more conscientious about the details.”
He said there is a connection to the farm and ranch community, and to the land, when customers know their steaks are coming from a farm down the street.
“I think that’s why people are trying to buy local,” Veldhuizen said. “It’s something that really should be embraced because it’s an important part of our life.”
Matt Larson, managing partner at Kenny’s Steak House, 3502 10th St., said the restaurant ownership doesn’t go out of the way to get local meat — buying cuts from a national food supplier — but he thinks because of its Greeley location, it probably serves local beef often.
They work with a program that holds the meat to certain standards such as aging and tenderness requirements.
“Those are the things that are important to us,” Larson said.
But to meet those specifications and to keep it local, it could get pricey. Those price hikes would be passed on to the customer, which isn’t his goal.
“I know that (local) is kind of trending and people like the idea of it. And philosophically, I like the idea too,” he said. “Business-wise, it’s a little harder.”
The local designation often comes at a premium because some consumers will pay more for the local classification, even if sometimes the quality doesn’t meet Larson’s standards.
Ellicott said he expects the demand for locally raised meat to keep growing from here.
“I’ve been told by some of my chef associates and friends that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “They think it’s just going to keep growing by leaps and bounds.” ❖