Meat Markets Dwindling

Published Thursday, October 07, 2010


Eagle photo/Stuart Villanueva
Readfield’s Meats and Deli employee Nihad Merdzo cuts steaks at the butcher shop Sept. 29.

Eagle photo/Stuart Villanueva
Jack and Jackie Jarrett are the owners of Jarrett’s Meat Services in Madisonville.

MADISONVILLE — When was the last time you paid your neighborhood butcher a visit?

Probably around the same time your milk man dropped by.

The number of corner markets and even custom slaughterhouses have dwindled over recent decades — exact data was not available from the Texas Department of Agriculture or American Association of Meat Processors — but for the businesses that have survived while grocery store meat markets continue to multiply, it’s been a worthwhile effort.

Plenty of people in the Brazos Valley know their butcher by name and choose to purchase from the local businesses and get their meat and poultry processed there. Hundreds take their own livestock to at least one area slaughterhouse to stock their freezers.

Jackie and Jack Jarrett have owned and operated for 24 years one of the area’s last true slaughter and butcher businesses.

Throughout the year, ranchers bring their cows, pigs, goats and sheep to Jarrett’s Meat Service on Crossroads Street in Madisonville, where animals are processed and meat is cut to order.

As many as 20 livestock animals are brought into the store daily, the owners said. By 1:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, nine head of cattle already had been prepared for butchering.

Deer season is by far the busiest time of year, Jackie Jarrett said, estimating an average of 30 deer are carried in daily.

The couple built their facility — which is tucked behind some buildings on a small road not far from Texas 21– themselves.

Jack Jarrett said he grew up working in his family’s butcher shop in New Baden and has always had a knack for the trade.

He was a meat inspector for five years prior to opening Jarrett’s Meat, an experience that he said has benefited the couples’ business.

The two met in high school and have been together since, they said. They have two kids, ages 20 and 24, as well as two grandchildren. Next year, they will celebrate 30 years of marriage.

“Having a family business has always been the purpose of Jarrett’s,” Jackie Jarrett said. “We opened the shop so the kids wouldn’t have to go to day care. They were raised right here.”

The Jarretts attribute much of their success to making customers feel like family while providing them professional service.

Quality control is another important element, which is why Jack and Jackie said they’re the only ones who do the butchering.

“I try to cut it how I’d want it for myself, and I’m really picky,” Jack Jarrett said. “We want everyone to be pleased.”

Perry Mizell, who lives in Normangee, has being taking his calves to Jarrett’s Meats for about 12 years. He grew up in Conroe and was raised eating his family’s grass-fed cows and said he’s had several butchers throughout his life.

“You’ve got to provide a quality product, and they do,” Mizell said. “They do things the way you want it.”

Over the years, specialty meat and butcher shops have closed down or limited services because of a lack of business, meat retailers said. People prefer to buy their meat in the grocery stores to save time, money and effort.

“There aren’t many butchers left,” Jack Jarrett said. “When we started, there was a locker plant in every town.”

Richard Ruffino, owner of Readfield’s Meat and Deli and Ruffino Meats, said he’s been fortunate in that his shops have thrived over the years. But, he said, being successful means knowing when to let go of some of your services.

In 2009, Ruffino decided to discontinue slaughtering services when it was clear he wasn’t making enough of a profit, he said.

It’s hard to miss his deli shop on Texas Avenue. It’s distinguishable by the large, brown cow in the parking lot. Inside is a small, cozy store, where you can find top-quality beef, poultry and pork, as well as typical grocery products.

Ruffino said his family has been selling specialty meats and other products since 1968, and even though the role of a butcher has changed over the years, he still loves the industry.

“It’s an exciting business,” he said. “I enjoy getting to talk to customers and making people satisfied.”

Ruffino opened up his processing facility in Bryan in 1983. He purchases and processes it to sell to grocery stores, restaurants, schools, fundraisers and other events.

Neither Ruffino nor the Jarretts have plans of closing shop anytime soon, they said.

“We live here in Madisonville and we love this town,” Jackie Jarrett said. “There’s just not many of us left in the custom slaughterhouse business.”