J.W. Treuth & Sons has been nestled in Oella so long, Michael Treuth said no one can figure out quite when the family-owned slaughterhouse and butcher shop first opened its doors, though a sign out front boasts more than 100 years in the business.
The 56-year old president and co-owner has been working in the family business for more than 40 years, and said the meat industry is what he "lives and breathes, literally."
Treuth & Sons only slaughters cattle, but it also buys wholesale and then sells and ships chicken, poultry and seafood products to customers, primarily restaurants, nationwide. The operation spans 16.5 acres on Oella Avenue next to the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum and includes a small retail store.
Inside the 20,000-square-foot abattoir, 100 head of cattle are slaughtered daily, then butchered and packaged, producing 315,000 pounds of meat and byproducts each week.
Treuth's weekdays start at 5 a.m., when he meets with a state or federal meat-grader, who evaluates the cattle Treuth checks in throughout the day with an sanitation inspector from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who must be there when the slaughterhouse is operating.
He busies himself during the day organizing shipments and arranging the purchase of cattle from as far west as Indianapolis and as far south as South Carolina.
"We buy everything slaughter-ready," Treuth said. "We do not raise our cattle. We buy cattle on Monday with the intention of slaughtering them on Tuesday."
Treuth recently shared what he's learned in more than four decades in the meat-packing industry.
Treuth's is one of a handful of area businesses that can say it's been family-owned and operated for more than a century. What does that mean to you?
It's been our source of livelihood for generations. My father was the survivor of his siblings and ended up as sole owner. He paved the way, and in '85 the business was handed to myself and my two brothers. It's been our source of livelihood for three generations. It means a lot to keep it in the family, to say we run it and always have.
You said you've been working here for as long as you can remember. The surrounding area was once almost all local farms. What challenges in adapting has the business faced over the years?
In the wholesale meat business, the values in the markets change every day. We go up and down every day with the market. These are sales that are formulated off of the beef market, so if the market goes up three cents, our prices automatically go up three cents. So, it adjusts on a daily basis for the wholesale level. The retail level is driven by competition and cost.
The average price for livestock today is about $1.50 a pound, which is record high, probably up maybe 150 percent in the last five years. The supplies, the local supplies, are demising because the farms are being developed into neighborhoods and are no longer farms. Our local supply is drying up. You can't water the fields from an empty well, and that's basically what we have.
What are your restaurant clients looking for in your product? What do you look for in purchasing cattle?
We do not buy cattle from auction that don't suit us. They have to be within an age requirement. They have to be within a size requirement.
We market a very high-quality item for the New York market. Nobody goes to low-end steakhouses. Everbody wants to go to high-end steakhouses. It has to be of a quality that can be sold and marketed throughout the country.
What can your customers find at Treuth's that they can't find at the grocery store?
Our retail store carries a certain amount of enthusiasm because we're a slaughterhouse. People like to come down, look at the cattle and walk out and have a one-to-one relationship with the clerk and have some direction on what to buy and how to cook it. We like to call ourselves a holiday store because every holiday you know you can come down here and get a high-quality product. And trust me, nobody wants to mess up Christmas or Thanksgiving
You can go over to the store and get a quarter-pound of bologna or buy 20,000 pounds. It's just that big of a swing. You can buy a piece of fresh-caught rockfish or an entire steer.
Because we're a little secluded down here, we have to draw the younger generation from the grocery store for the one-stop shop down here for something special. We have to make it a reason to come here. We like to believe that's for the quality of the product, as well as the price, because everybody worries about the price.