SOLDIERS GROVE - With the opening of the retail store at Solar Meats in Soldiers Grove, eating local just got a little bit easier. The fresh, bright, clean retail space in the front of Solar Meats makes a person instantly feel that you can purchase meat grown by your neighbors that is safe, and delicious.
The retail storefront is located at 101 Sunbeam Boulevard in Soldiers Grove. The store is open Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Solar Meats can be reached at 608-624-5525, and you can connect with them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Solar-Meats-LLC
Solar Meats is already helping to close the gap between local meat production and local processing for producers with smaller lots. Just two years ago, local producers of beef, pork and lamb were increasingly considering exiting the business. The lack of local processing facilities that would take smaller lots meant that producers would have had to transport their animals hundreds of miles, or take their chances at the sale barn.
In addition to sales through the retail storefront, the business also specializes in custom processing for families, and processing to support in-state cottage industry sales. They expect to begin their federal certification paperwork this summer, and this will allow products processed in their facility to be sold outside the state. The business also offers certified organic processing.
Recently, there was a post on the Independent’s Facebook page asking for advice about the best supplier of online meat. When the Independent suggested buying meat locally, from a neighbor, the response was, “Who could I get meat from locally?” Well, ask no more! Between Solar Meats in Soldiers Grove and the Eastman Locker, there is no reason to even think of ordering meat online.
What a treat to walk in to Solar Meats beautiful, clean new retail space and find three freezers full of tried and true favorites as well as tasty and hard-to-find treats like lamb chops and Braunschweiger. Of course, there’s everyone’s favorite – bacon – and even some foodie twists like garlic and pepper bacon.
“We’ve barely been able to keep bacon on the shelf since opening the retail doors,” Solar Meats butcher Duane Johannes said. “We’ve also had trouble keeping our Braunschweiger on the shelf – there seems to be a real taste for it locally.”
Beef offerings include T-Bone, Skirt, Tenderloin, Ribeye, Flank, Porterhouse, New York Strip and Top Sirloin Steaks; Chuck and Sirloin Tip Roasts; Soup Bones and Oxtails; Stew Meat; Ground Beef; Beef Short Ribs and Beef Liver. Johannes expects that very soon they will offer a line of grassfed beef products, and eventually, even Elk meat.
Eaters can also enjoy Leg of Lamb, Lamb Chops, Lamb Shoulder Steak and Lamb Shanks. In addition to Bacon, you can also purchase Smoked Hams, Pork Country Style Ribs, Smoked Pork Chops, Bone-In or Boneless Pork Chops, Ground Pork, Pork Shoulder and Loin Roasts, and Smoked Pork Hocks.
Perhaps the most exciting development is that Solar Meats has had their new smokehouse up and running since the first of the year. Sausage master Dan Morson brings training in ‘Old World Sausage-Making’ and more than 20 years of experience in creating smoked meat products to the business. Before working at Solar Meats, Morson ran the smokehouse for Premier Meats (later Driftless Meats) in rural Viroqua.
Eaters who have a love of smoked meats and sausage can expect to enjoy a wide and tasty array of selections. Multiple flavors of Beef Jerky, and Beef and Pork Snack Sticks, Beef Hot Dogs, Kielbasa, Ring Bologna, three flavors of pork sausage, two flavors of pork breakfast links, Summer Sausage, Sheboygan and Beer Bratwurst, and Mexican Cheddarwurst.
“We’re just getting started here,” Johannes explained. “Eventually we plan to double the size of our storefront, offer 10 varieties of brats, add in a fresh meat case, and offer beer, wine and cheese as well.”
Compared to the lean four-employee staff the locker started with back in 2018, they now employ 10 people as cutters, wrappers, cleaners and retail staff. Duane Johannes continues to lead the butchering and Rich Sitarski, according to Johannes, “is our number cruncher.” Suzy Steiskal handles customer service, scheduling customer pick ups, and works in the retail area as well.
Johannes, who was known for his mobile processing prior to opening the meat locker, reports that he has pulled back on that aspect for the time being. As the operations at the meat locker become more solidified, Johannes plans to reintroduce that aspect of the business. He reports that it is likely that the number of employees working at the plant will more than double in the coming years.
“All of the meat we process has been produced locally, most of it coming from Crawford and Vernon counties,” Johannes said. “At this point, we’re booked out between 30-45 days, and the demand for our services is growing.”
Johannes says that he hopes that the business can eventually offer a brat fry area outside the store, where groups can come and do fundraising events. He said they have also supported other local fundraising events, offering meat bundles at a discounted price.
“Regardless of our growth in the last year, we are still fundamentally a ‘Mom and Pop’ business,” Johannes said. “We want to get to know our customers personally and understand what they need and expect from us.”Johannes said that he does not at this time envision launching a branded line of meat products, but hopes to expand into some co-packing business for those who have brands. The locker is also exploring various outlets in the restaurant, retail fresh case and even foodservice channel of sales.