Trio Launches Meat Processing Plant

The group will harvest animals on area farms with a mobile slaughter unit.

Dave Jones

FREEMAN, S.D. (AP) — From the Schmeckfest bratwurst to the South Dakota Chislic Festival, mouth-watering meat draws great crowds to the Freeman community.

Now, this Hutchinson County town of 1,300 residents has gained a business providing an outlet for both livestock producers and meat aficionados.

Prairie-to-Plate Enterprises Inc. will establish a butcher shop and meat processing facility along U.S. Highway 81, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reported.

In addition, the building will house "The Chislic House," a restaurant specializing in chislic — cubes of fried meat, usually lamb, served on small skewers — and craft beers.

Will Ortman, Nate Preheim and Tim Kautz will operate as equal partners in the new venture, they told the Press & Dakotan. They recently acquired the former Katie's Malt Shoppe.

"Purchasing the building completes our set of cornerstone assets," Ortman said, "and will enable us to begin USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)-inspected meat processing by late summer. Our aim is to serve local small to mid-size livestock producers by providing them access to processing capacity."

The partners plan to expand their business into a building constructed in the newly-annexed Freeman industrial park, Preheim said. The current building and future processing plant will be located on neighboring property.

"(The industrial park) is more or less directly across 81 to the east, and north just a few steps, within a stone's throw of the Chislic House," he said. "One of our strategic goals was to have a presence on both sides of (Highway 81)."

All of the operations will be initially housed under one roof, Preheim said.

"The meat-processing facility will be in the back of the house and will act as a temporary facility until the main facility is ready to go live in fourth quarter of 2020," he said. "Our mobile slaughter unit will marry up to the Chislic House building with an overhead rail system."

While one part of the building will be used for meat processing, the other part will feature a favorite local snack for diners.

"The Chislic House guests will be able to enjoy local chislic and craft beer in the dining area," Preheim said.

The parent company will be the same for both enterprises.

"It will be the same entity; however our main butchery operation will simply be moved to the new facility," Preheim said. "We plan to keep some meat operations, mainly chislic, active at the Chislic House once we get moved to the new building. Also, we plan to have the Chislic House also function as a retail shop where customers can buy local grass fed meats."

The Prairie-to-Plate partners outlined their plans in a press release.

"The marketing plan will open doors for local and regional producers to see more value-chain dollars," they said. "The company is investing in professional branding and marketing to access regional markets."

The group will harvest animals on area farms with a mobile slaughter unit, according to the news release. Offal — the animals' entrails and internal organs — will be composted far from the city limits as part of the company's regenerative approach.

Value-added butchery will take place at the processing facility. Prairie-to-Plate has also lined up an experienced head butcher, a marketing specialist and a retired USDA food safety inspector to facilitate USDA regulatory compliance.

Prairie-to-Plate is planning to build an expansion facility in Freeman's newly-annexed industrial park. Paperwork is underway to complete the purchase of the industrial-park site from the Freeman Community Development Corporation.

"The FCDC has been very supportive of our plans," Ortman said. "We see their decision as a strong validation of our approach."

The innovative approach has required a great deal of planning, Ortman said in the press release.

"The business is geared toward creating opportunity for livestock producers to access the consumer more directly," the partners said. "Additionally, the company will roll out an incentive program for local producers who wish to raise animals to be sold to the plant on-the-rail."

The company will sell directly through several marketing channels including retail, e-commerce, wholesale and through the Chislic House.

"The name Prairie-to-Plate symbolizes the vertical integration — from the prairie to the plate of customers — that will keep all dollars flowing to the local community," the partners said in the news release.

The announcement of the new businesses comes on the heels of outstanding recent visibility and public response to chislic.

The cubed meat — often served with garlic salt and saltine crackers, and enjoyed with a beer — has long been tied to the German-Russian settlers in Freeman and the surrounding region.

However, chislic — considered a South Dakota delicacy unknown to most people outside the state — has gained national attention in the past year.

The Meridian Cafe, located north of Yankton, was featured at the "Flavored Nation" food expo in Columbus, Ohio.

The popularity of the meat treat struck again last summer when the inaugural South Dakota Chislic Festival in Freeman debuted to a huge response.

Organizers were hoping 1,500-2,000 people would attend the festival. They became overwhelmed when more than 10,000 people arrived and food ran out quickly.

South Dakota Chislic Festival founder Josh Hofer said he and the event have no connection to the Prairie-to-Plate operation. However, he believes the arrival of the new business firmly entrenches the popularity and availability of chislic, in turn boosting the regional agricultural economy.

"We're really excited for what Prairie-to-Plate is going to bring to the table," he said. "For the South Dakota Chislic Festival, it represents the creation of another vibrant organization capitalizing on the Freeman area's strengths in food, heritage, the arts and agriculture."