Stanhope Locker has new owners with big plans

-Messenger photo by Billie Shelton
Wes Zanker cuts meat at the Stanhope Locker, assisted by employee Austin Vandivier.

STANHOPE — The new owners of the venerable Stanhope Locker have lots of plans for the business that has been a mainstay in the community since 1946. For Wes and Shaunna Zanker, they see it as an opportunity to “bring the reputation of the business back to what it used to be, to put Stanhope back on the map,” as Wes puts it.

And the young couple couldn’t be more excited to take on the challenge since they assumed ownership of the business as managing partners about three weeks ago. There have been many 16-hour days since, tempered by the surge of support from the community. “It’s very encouraging. It’s nice to feel support from everyone around us,” Shaunna Zanker said. “Even owners of other lockers in the area have been very helpful to answer our questions.”

Wes, 35, was employed at the locker for four years when he was younger, when he learned about the business, including butchering animals and cutting meat. For the past eleven years, he has been a supervisor at a grocery warehouse in Des Moines, but he says that working at the locker previously was his favorite job ever. And until last fall he didn’t think he’d ever be back there.

That’s when Shaunna Zanker decided to pursue her husband’s dream for him and contacted the then-owner of the business, although the locker wasn’t for sale at the time. Her persistence won out, though. “And five months later, here we are,” she said with a big smile.

Shaunna Zanker, 30, who grew up in Webster City and graduated from ICCC with an associate degree in human services, handles customer service and other details in the front of the locker, while Wes is busy tending to other aspects of the business.

“I figure I like people enough that this will work,” she commented.

Under new ownership, the locker will once again be processing pork. For now, that service is available only for custom processing, but soon there will be pork available in the retail coolers at the locker. Already Wes is making beef jerky, a standard offering at the locker for years. Along with beef, the locker also processes deer, and can assist owners with injured animals if needed.

The Zankers are joined in the business by partners Andy and Amy Walsh, who have owned and operated a successful restaurant and bar in Waukee for 11 years. Andy Walsh has a degree in culinary arts.

According to Shaunna Zanker, new at the locker will be deli items such as cheese from Lost Lake Farm, sodas, buns, potato salad, condiments, and other items to make a meal or a picnic.

“We’ll have grill packages and tailgate packages for people who want to stop and get something on their way to an ISU game. They can call ahead to order what they want, and then grab and go,” she said. “We’ll be putting together some packages for Memorial Day too.

“We plan to fill these big coolers just as fast as possible,” she said. “We’ll have fresh meat for retail sale every day. And meat and cheese trays will be available to order, too.”

Business hours at the locker are 8 a.m. to 5: p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

In the midst of all these plans, the Zankers are starting on a facelift for the solid brick building that’s been a kingpin on Stanhope’s main street for more than 125 years.

“It needs to look as good as our product is,” Shaunna Zanker said.

Wes Zanker grew up in and around Stanhope, which could be why he’s so focused on making sure the locker thrives once again. “People want to know where their food comes from now,” he noted. “There’s lots of interest in the food-to-fork movement.”

“In a small town, small businesses are really important,” adds his wife. “We’re passionate about this town, and we want to keep contributing and bringing business to town.” The couple, married four years, lives a few miles outside of Stanhope with sons Lakin, 11, and Baylin, almost 2.

An unusual feature at the locker is the locker boxes that can be rented for customers to store their meat. There are 42 lockers that were used by many families before it was common to have a home freezer.

Shaunna Zanker sums it up from her desk that overlooks the sales floor when she says, “We’re excited to be here and anxious to be a bigger part of the community. It’s really great to have everyone’s support and to hear their memories of this locker.”