SOLDIERS GROVE - Over the past two years, Solar Meats in Soldiers Grove has offered the community a variety of local meats and processing services. To celebrate that and their expansion, the local locker will be hosting their grand opening celebration, Saturday, Sept. 25.
The celebration had been put off, like many things, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as allowing them ample time to get their renovations at the locker in order.
Now that things are squared away, the owners and staff of the locker are excited to invite the community to come out and see what they have to offer.
Duane Johannes and Rich Sitarski started the locker in November of 2018, when the building, which was a former cheese factory in Soldiers Grove, came available for sale. After nearly a year of renovations, they opened their doors along with co-owner Scott Drabicki.
“Duane has been a butcher since high school,” explained Sitarski. “He did on farm processing for approximately four years before we found this location. We had looked at several locations in Crawford County and when this building became available the location and footprint of it really fit our plans well. We also spoke with the board who surveyed the community and they welcomed the idea of the meat locker warmly.”
Sitarski also noted that the central highway location has also served the locker well, allowing ease for trailers bringing livestock in addition to high visibility for retail customers.
The local community is highly valuable to Solar Meats, not only as their customer base processing meat, but also for their retail sales.
“About 99 percent of the meat we source is local and goes right from the hoof to the store,” Sitarski shared.
Sitarski himself is also a producer for the retail end of the business. In 2003, he purchased an elk farm in Crawford County and Solar Meats offers the fresh elk meat from his farm in their retail freezers.
In addition to elk, the locker also offers all of the tried and true favorites that one would expect at their local meat market. Brats, hotdogs, bacon, fine steaks and more are all part of the lineup.
“One of our most popular items are probably the smoked pork chops,” Sitarski shared. “We’re always trying to keep those stocked.”
Solar Meats, like many in the food industry, experienced the heavy boom of business during 2020, as folks weathering the pandemic sought local foods like never before.
“It was kind of an unpredicted perfect storm,” Sitarski explained. “People were seeking out processing facilities like never before. Our flexibility during that time really helped us get through our first year.”
Sitarski shared that Solar Locker is not limited in their processing by their carcass storage. Thanks to the newly built facility with a very large cooler, they’re able to accommodate more hanging animals awaiting final processing. And that the schedule is more dictated by cutting and processing times.
He noted that they work to be flexible with farmers and producers to allow availability of more locker dates, with less of the frenzy that was seen during 2020.
“We still like to do everything over the phone,” Sitarski explained. “Instead of having people log on to a website to get a locker date, we like to be able to talk with the farmers and figure out something that works. It’s important for us to maintain that direct connection with the farmers and producers.”
Another new addition for Solar Meats will be the newly added EBT-SNAP approval to an accepted form of payment. Sitarski expected their register to be up and running and accepting EBT by this week.As for the grand opening event, the regular store hours for the store on Saturday are 8 a.m. until noon, but for the event the hours will be expanded into the late afternoon. Lunch will be served, brats, hotdogs, chips and a drink, from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. There will also be music outdoors and all three owners will be on hand to chat about the locker and its offerings.