BUTLER, Pa. – When Tom and Pam Huff rolled out the blueprints for Huff’s Custom Meats in 2003, it was a big leap of faith.
They had more to worry about than finding customers and managing expenses – they had to learn their trade.
“I built a butcher shop without knowing how to cut meat,” Tom said.
Although he knew how to slaughter, cutting the meat was another story.
Their risk was magnified by a flimsy safety net – Tom knew the factory he worked at was closing and it wouldn’t be long until he was out of work.
Luckily, Tom and Pam found a mentor to teach them the ins and outs of the business. Pam’s uncle, a meat cutter, showed Tom how to cut meat and helped Pam learn to wrap it.
By October 2003, Huff’s Custom Meats was in business.
Beef. Huff’s Custom Meats is located on the Huffs’ 110-acre farm, Rich Mart Farm, in Butler, Pa. Tom and Pam have 28 Angus brood cows and nearly that many calves, plus 20 older calves that will be slaughter-age in the fall.
Their goal is to sell all their calves through the butcher shop, an achievement they reached for the first time last year.
“This beef is born here, raised here and never leaves the farm,” Tom said.
They sell beef by the quarter or half and customers can also bring their own animals for processing.
While the couple hopes to see their business grow, they don’t want to become the Wal-Mart of the custom meats industry.
“For only being out here three years, we’re getting close to where we want to be,” Pam said.
The Huffs also process deer and pork, in addition to beef. Tom takes care of the slaughtering and cutting while Pam does the boning, wrapping and book work for the farm.
Both help with farming the hay, corn and oats grown to feed the cows.
During a typical week, the Huffs plan one day for slaughtering and three to four days for cutting. When they’re not in the butcher shop, they focus on the crops.
Although it depends on the season, the couple usually cuts three to four animals per week.
During June and July, the shop is closed, giving the Huffs time to concentrate on farming.
History. Tom’s parents, Richard and Martie, bought the farm in the early 1960s and farmed it until Tom and Pam took over in 1997.
At the time, Tom had a job in a factory, but he enjoyed farming and had always thought about taking it on full time.
Early in 2003, Tom found out the factory was going to close and he would be out of work by summer. He decided this was his opportunity to give farming a try, so the Huffs went to the bank and borrowed money to build the butcher shop.
By spring, it was a work in progress.
“With us raising beef, it kind of just seemed to fit,” said Pam, who also works off the farm as a part-time secretary.
There was also a market for that kind of business in the area, Tom added.
But deciding to open the butcher shop wasn’t a choice the couple took lightly. They weighed their options, taking things like health insurance, retirement and overhead expenses into consideration.
The Huffs did their homework by visiting other butcher shops and talking with local butchers.
“It probably would’ve been a lot easier for me to go get another job, but there’s more pros than cons,” Tom said.
Grateful. Tom and Pam are quick to credit those who help make the business work. Their children – Tomi, Tanis, Taylor and Toby – help when they can, and Tom’s mom, Martie, often lends a hand as well.
Beginning a new business has meant a bit of a lifestyle change for the Huffs, but it’s been a worthwhile trade, according to Tom, a part-time school bus driver.
His paychecks aren’t as lucrative now, but he got to see every one of his daughter’s basketball games this year.
“It’s a trade-off between the money and staying home,” he said.
Staying positive. Despite the financial change, the Huffs are optimistic about the business.
“Even when the money was tight, we both said, ‘this is going to work,'” Tom said.
Although they have several years of experience under their belts, the Huffs still learn new things every day. But more importantly than information about cutting or wrapping or marketing, Tom and Pam said they’ve received the most fulfillment from learning to appreciate their family and enjoying what they have.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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