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Green Gourmet - Ladue News: Food & Dining

Green Gourmet

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Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 12:33 pm

About 50 miles southeast of St. Louis rests a small Illinois village with a deep-rooted German heritage—dating back to 1834—called St. Libory. Almost 100 years later, John Wenneman purchased a small meat shop in 1927, which became the Wenneman Meat Co.—completely unaware of the legacy he had created, not only for his family and St. Libory proper, but for the region as a whole.

After running the business for several decades, John sold the butcher shop to his sons, Bob and Jim, in 1974. And then in 2004, their nephew, Brad Schmitz, and another Wenneman employee, Paul Otten, took over. “My great- grandpa, John Wenneman, started operating the business out of his home, and he did that for many years,” Schmitz explains. “In the 1970s, he built a retail store, and by that time, his two boys, Bob and Jim, were working with him and running a lot of the operations.” Schmitz says he started working at the butcher shop in 1987 as a clean-up boy after school and on weekends. “I was a freshman in high school, and I would get off the bus here at the store. During the summer, I would spend time working in other areas, finding out about the different processes. So, I really grew up here and learned how to do every- thing the right way.”

According to Schmitz, Otten had a similar family history. His father, Charlie Otten, started his own butcher shop at Eckert’s. “So, Paul grew up in that atmosphere, as well,” Schmitz notes.

Wenneman Meat Co. is known for its premium cuts of meat, seafood and deli, and Schmitz points out that “we don’t take shortcuts or use fillers, additives or preserva- tives in any of our products. In this day and age, I believe that says a lot because it’s very tough to find anymore.” He continues to explain that their company’s products are fresh. “When you come in to our store to purchase pork chops, chances are, they will only be a day or two old, as opposed to pork sold in a grocery store, which is likely three or four weeks old before it is even cut.”

In all likelihood, many St. Louisans have experienced a Wenneman’s product at some point. The meat company currently has about 550 accounts—many in the St. Louis area— including Ladue Market, Global Foods Market, Baumann’s Fine Meats, The Wine Merchant, Big Sky Cafe, Coastal Bistro & Bar and Herbie’s Vintage 72 .

The company uses local farmers for its beef and pork, and Schmitz reports a healthy working relationship with the growers. “What’s really nice about it is that, since they are working for us, we can control everything right down to their feed program,” he says. “We can specify what they are allowed to do and what they are not—for instance, not using hormones and not using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. We feel like the feed program we have developed produces choice beef and good-quality, tender pork. The taste certainly goes back to how the animals were raised.”

Another popular offering at the butcher shop is its house- made sausage. “Because we are located in a German community, a lot of our products have a German heritage or base for our recipes,” Schmitz notes, adding that they continue to use recipes that have been passed down through the generations. “We have more than 100 different types of sausages that we make, and we have our own curing and smoking operation, so we offer a lot of ready- to-eat products, as well.”

While Wenneman Meat Co. has continued to expand steadily through time, it has been under Schmitz and Otten’s watch that the midsize operation with 40 employees has undergone substantial growth. Not even an unforeseen catastrophe in 2011 could derail their hard work and careful planning. “We had a fire on Jan. 27, 2011, and our building burned to the ground. There was nothing left—nothing from our entire operation was salvageable,” Schmitz says. “But the fire is not a sore subject anymore, because we now have a new facility that is fabulous—every- thing is state-of-the-art. Our retail space is now twice its original size and much more customer friendly. It really ended up being a blessing for us.” And many might agree for St. Libory and the region, too.

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