EASTMAN - Sometimes things work out right—and that appears to be what happened in Eastman last month, when Grant Stluka bought the Eastman Meat Locker from Kevin Schaaf.
Schaaf had owned the meat locker for the past 13 years and was ready to retire, but wasn’t finding a buyer for the successful local business.
Stluka had been working on the road building storage tanks for oil refineries for the past nine years and was looking to work closer to home and his family. He had previously worked for Schaaf at one point. While still in high school, he also worked for Gaylord Kramer, the previous meat locker owner.
With the sale of the business finalized, Grant and Nikki Stluka took over running the locker on January 1, 2019. It seems to be a smooth transition–after all Grant has already spent several years working at the locker in the past.
The four employees one full-time and three part-time continue to work at the locker.
While the business may have some changes with a new owner, it’s core operation remains the same–butchering cattle and hogs for local farmers.
Grant and Nikki seem happy with their choice to take over the locker plant. And although they may not know about it, the couple’s two children, Gracen and Graham, seemed pretty happy to be with mom and dad at work last week.
Besides what it means for the Stlukas, keeping the Eastman Locker open means a lot for the local community. At the moment, it’s the only custom butchering facility available in Crawford County. The Kickapoo Locker in Gays Mills closed its doors last year and the new Solar Meats planning to open in Soldiers Grove is still in the process of remodeling and upgrading their facility.
So, it looks like the Stlukas will have plenty of business. And, everybody, including Grant, seemed to acknowledge he’s the rare young person going into the local meat business.
“There’s not too many young fellas doing this,” Grant said candidly at one point.
After working on the road building storage facilities for several years, Grant wanted to come home.
“He was gone and he missed a lot of family time,” Nikki explained.
Well that’s changed. The Eastman Locker is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, but those Saturday hours may change to accommodate customers.
The locker is a state inspected slaughter facility. Last Monday, they slaughtered seven beef and eight hogs.
The Eastman Locker sells frozen meat of almost every cut to the public in addition to the custom butchering. Last week, Grant bought a hog from a local farmer and sold it from the case as fresh meat. He plans on doing more of that in the future.
The locker also makes sausages. Customers can buy several flavors of snack sticks, two kinds of summer sausage, breakfast sausage, brats and ring bologna.
The sampled summer sausage and habanero snack sticks were outstanding.
Several farmers have animals butchered at the locker and then sell the meat to people in the community.
Although Grant thinks less people are buying halves or quarters of beef, he still believes it’s the way to go.
“It’s a lot cheaper and a lot better quality,” Grant says.
In addition to what they sell at the Eastman Locker, the Stlukas are selling the products elsewhere as well. The snack sticks are being sold at Greener’s Corner in Seneca and at the Wooden Nickel in Ferryville–the bar is also using them in their elaborately garnished Bloody Marys.
The Stlukas believe in buying the cattle and hogs locally and processing and selling that meat locally.
Local farmers believe in it as well. Farmer Swede Knutson had his locally raised beef butchered by Eastman Locker and sold the meat at the Ferryville Cheese Store and the Pronto in DeSoto, his convenience stores on Highway 35.
One person, who’s happy Grant bought the business, is former owner Kevin Schaaf.
“I’m happy it’s sold and I’m glad he could buy it and keep it going,” Schaaf said. “Every town used to have one. Now, there’s not many left around.
“It’s good somebody with his experience could get it,” Schaaf said. “There are not many meat cutters around anymore.”
When Grant worked for Gaylord Kramer while in high school, he learned to butcher from Gaylord’s son Travis Kramer.
“Now, he’s found his way back,” Schaaf said. “It was time for me to retire and let a young guy take over. It’s time for some fresh blood and new ideas.
“Eastman is a good community and I’m grateful for their support over the years,” Schaaf said. “Grant will do well.”
One of those community members, Roger Slama, seemed about as excited by the sale of the locker as Grant or Kevin.
“It’s fantastic,” Slama said. “It keeps people employed and we need every business we can get in a small town.”
Slama serves on the village board and is a member of the Eastman Community Club.
“Grant is a young guy and hopefully he’ll be here a longtime,” Slama said. “We want to support him.”
Well, it seems they will. Roger Slama explained that every year the community club orders 1,600 brats for the big Eastman Fourth of July Celebration and a hog for the Firemen’s Hog Roast.
Yes, it appears something in a small town may have worked out for the best for everyone involved. Next time you’re in Eastman, stop by the locker and buy some summer sausage–it’s the real local thing to do and very delicious.