The brats are just as delicious as ever, but the “Kraut” is on the side now. That’s one way to summarize what’s happening at Valley Butchery and Meat Market in Spring Valley. Another description would be: the more things change, the more they stay the same. The business has a new name, but was known for the past 50 years as Kraut’s Locker. Effective July 1, Ken and Janell Kraut are no longer the owners, but they continue to work part-time for new owners Rusty and Tanner Hellickson. But Rusty stresses that he plans to make very few changes, since Kraut’s recipes and business plan were successful.
Rusty explained that he also owns a fur business in Spring Valley, but, “The fur market had collapsed on us… The embargo that the U.S. put in against Russia killed us, because raccoons were my bread and butter, that’s what paid my bills. So we had to make a Plan B, and Kenny was ready to back off, so we decided to move forward.”
Regarding the opportunity to have Ken stay on for now, Rusty said, “Fifty years of experience, you can’t just let that go away. Kenny stayed on with us part-time… This has been a major change for him. Kenny works when he wants to, and he doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to… And he’s come in very handy,… with information,… there’s quirks in the building that only he knows!”
Rusty shared that both he and his son Tanner started out as “clean-up boys” at Kraut’s Locker years ago, and he was trained in the slaughtering and butchering processes by his uncle, who was trained by Rusty’s grandfather. Rusty proudly stated, “So I’m third generation that this has been handed down, and now my boys are fourth generation.” He went on to explain how important it is to him that this will be a family business, admitting, “My boys, if I didn’t have them, I would not have even considered this.” And he smiled as he added, “We’ve even got my granddaughter up here in her walker, tearing around!”
There’s a door separating the front and back rooms of the business, and Rusty said nothing is changing in the back room, adding, “How we handle beef, the aging time, how we cut them, how we wrap them, …all of those things are exactly the same, step for step for step…” But he said in the front room, “From that door forward, this is the stuff I wanted to change. Both of those (display) cases are brand new, so we’ve been able to add some new products that weren’t here before.” He also said he often sees customers come in, and the first thing he’ll hear them say is, “Wow!”
Rusty said he’s got some plans for expansion of the business, but is not rushing into anything. He said regarding deer meat, they currently can only process “boneless trimmings” to make various sausage products, but he expects to have a separate semi trailer brought in sometime in the next few years so the business can process deer carcasses without the deer ever being inside the plant.
“One of the things that we did change is the hours,” Rusty noted, “It’s not a huge change, it’s one hour, but what it does is,… folks that are working in Rochester and the surrounding area, many of them don’t hit town til 5:30, quarter to six.” So he stays open until at least 6 p.m. on weekdays, and until 1 p.m. on weekends. Tanner added that their location, next to Kwik Trip, is an advantage because often people who are parked at Kwik Trip will see the sign and walk over to buy some meat or cheese.
Rusty and Tanner said their best-selling products are beef sticks, jerky, bacon, and summer sausage. Rusty said parents have sent the jerky to sons who are troops in the Afghanistan, so they can tuck it in a pocket while on duty, since it doesn’t need refrigeration, and ships well. He also noted that some customers drive down from the Twin Cities just to get the summer sausage. Tanner notes there are some seasonal fluctuations in sales, such as a sudden increase in bacon sales when tomatoes are ripe (did someone say BLT?). They also sell oysters and other seasonal items during the holidays.
Rusty said he’s a big believer in offering samples, as a way to get customers familiar with his products. Customer service is also a motto of the business, as this reporter witnessed when customers came in during the interview. Rusty greeted every customer with a smile, and gave a hearty thanks as they left. And he welcomes everyone to stop in to see (and taste) for themselves.