TORRINGTON – A new butcher shop is opening in Torrington with the goal of fostering a local food system by connecting producers with consumers.
According to Mark Estes, co-owner of Off The Hook, Goshen County is one of the best places in the world to raise beef.
“We have acres and acres of inexpensive pastureland, and we also have irrigated crop land where we can raise grain,” Estes said. “Not a whole lot of other places have those two things so close to each other.”
One of the biggest issues in the area has been long delays in scheduling times for slaughter due to the lack of local processors. Estes said it can take up to 16 months to schedule a date.
Estes had spent a couple years in a butcher shop and after Roy’s Cold Storage burned down, he started to go through the steps to start his own. Estes said the butchery will also help to keep things more local.
“We believe the more local we can keep things, one, the more money stays in the community, and two you have better transparency with the quality of your product, the safety of your product,” Estes said. “It’s also really healthy for a community to do face-to-face interactions and deals rather than relying on continental supply chains and national supply chains.”
Despite Goshen County being a small, tight-knit community, Estes said people still get their meats from local grocery stores which is most often not locally sourced.
“That product in the local grocery store is USDA inspected, but USDA no longer requires the country of origin to be marked on that package of meat product,” Estes said.
The services provided by Off The Hook are meant to connect local consumers to local producers which is something Estes believes is missing in the area.
“We want to offer a brokerage service where local producers who have product ready can find local consumers,” Estes said. “There’s no system out there right now to make that happen, so if we can be kind of that local hub where people can say ‘hey I’m looking for beef’ and ‘I got a beef to sell’ we can be that connection for those people.”
Along with the unique ability in the area to be connector for producers and consumers, Estes said they do all domestic species such as beef, pork, lamb and goat which is a rare service in the area. While most local butcheries stick to just beef, Off The Hook hopes to open up more “niche” markets by expanding the types of animals which can be slaughtered there.
“We also hope that by having another butcher shop in the community that people don’t have to sell their product at a commodity price. They can get a better price for it than what they could at a market sale and the end consumer can get maybe a better product and maybe a less expensive product than they can get right now,” Estes said.
Off The Hook is a custom exempt processor meaning all live animals brought to them must be sold to the person who will be receiving the meat.
Estes said in the future they plan to partner with local restaurants and other institutions to provide locally sourced meats.
“I think it would be a really neat service for local restaurants to say hey we’re serving local beef or todays steak or the hamburger in the tacos and burritos today are from this ranch or this producer,” Estes said. “I think that’s a really neat service and I think it could also build some community trust.”
Another way the new butcher shop hopes to increase trust in the community is by educating customers on the types of products they are purchasing. Estes said people often don’t know the differences between cuts of beef or how the animal’s final weight will be a lot less than when it is first sent to be butchered due to the bones, skin and excess fat.
Overall, Estes said customers can expect quality service as well as services to keep the meat fresh and flavorful.
“All of our meat is vacuumed packaged. Our beef in particular hang for 14 days and on hogs, any bacons and hams are cured and smoked in house with real hickory wood smoke,” Estes said.
In terms of getting the business started, Estes said Goshen County Economic Development, The Wyoming Dept. of Agriculture (Consumer Health Services division) and local producers “helped us make this project a reality.”
In May, Off The Hook will be opening its retail counter as another way to offer local meat products to the community.
“Goshen County producers are raising a great product and it’s disappointing to see our producers selling things at a lower price than what they could be getting, and at the same time most of our community is getting beef from who knows where, and so we would really like to be the people who would close that loop and just kind of keep that circle going,” Estes said. “That’s who we want to be.”