YETTER - While Jason Ludwig earned his degree in graphic art and design, a unique career path has allowed him to master the art of meat cutting at the Yetter Locker.
For 10 years, he has expanded this thriving business, which now serves customers from Algona to Jefferson.
Ironically, the locker's location at the end of Summit Street sometimes proves tricky for first-time customers in this town of population 36.
-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Jason Ludwig, who serves on the board of the Iowa Meat Processors Association, is shown cutting beef ribs at the Yetter Locker.
"We still have people who stop at the elevator and call to ask directions," said Ludwig, 36, who grew up on a farm near Auburn.
As one of three meat lockers in Calhoun County, the Yetter Locker has carved out a niche by offering high-quality products and catering.
None of this was by design, said Ludwig, who worked for the Graphic Edge in Carroll from 1998 to 2003. "I joke that I was young and dumb when I decided to buy the locker when I was 26."
From part-time to ownership
Ludwig learned the meat-cutting trade by working part-time at a locker south of Omaha during his years as a student at Universal Technical Institute. After graduating from UTI and returning to western Iowa, Ludwig occasionally helped process deer at the Yetter Locker, which was owned by Mel Smith.
When Smith surprised Ludwig one day by offering him the chance to buy the locker, Ludwig decided to try his hand at business ownership.
"I didn't like sitting behind a desk and was willing to take on a new challenge," said Ludwig, who graduated from Wall Lake View Auburn High School in 1994 - the same year that the current Yetter Locker was built.
For Ludwig, the customer always comes first, he said. The business is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Some of the Yetter Locker's best-selling products include fresh-cut steaks, ground beef and Yetter bacon. "People can't get enough bacon," said Ludwig, who serves on the board of the Iowa Meat Processors Association.
The Yetter Locker also supplies the sausage that's served each winter in Jolley for that town's famous Saturday morning biscuits-and-gravy breakfasts.
"They wanted more spice in their sausage than our standard recipe," Ludwig said, "so their mix has a rate and a half of seasoning." Customers can order what he calls Jolley sausage.
Ludwig relies on a wide range of his own recipes and those of previous owner Charlie Lietz for his award-winning meat products.
"In the past 10 years, I've noticed that people want hotter, spicier sausages and bratwursts," added Ludwig, who continues to develop new recipes, including a maple and blueberry breakfast sausage that he hopes to offer soon.
Unique products are just one of the ways that Ludwig and his two full-time employees and two part-time employees cater to customers.
"If you tell me what you want to eat for the week, I'll have it all boxed up and ready for you to pick up," said Ludwig, who has won many awards for his dried beef, sausage and more at the Iowa State Fair and IMPA competitions. "You can even save money by buying locally, since we do our best to stay cost-competitive."
The Yetter Locker also serves customers by offering catered meals for public events including co-op meetings, wedding receptions and family reunions. The team has served groups ranging from 40 to more than 400 people.
Ludwig launched the catering business in 2009 after purchasing a mobile grill from a gentleman in Sac City.
While Ludwig customizes his catering to each clients' unique needs, typical menus include roast beef or brisket, smoked or grilled pork loin, ham or pulled pork.
Popular side dishes range from Ludwig's homemade baked beans to cheesy hashbrowns, steamed vegetables or green beans sauted with onions and bacon.
"This is meat-and-potatoes country," said Ludwig, who values the assistance of his employee Jeremy Rierson, of Carroll, who has a culinary degree.
The catering enterprise has been so successful that Ludwig is looking at ways to expand the 50-by-60-foot locker to include a commercial kitchen.
As he continues to grow the business, Ludwig never forgets how closely the Yetter Locker's success is tied to the farm economy.
"There's a lot of livestock in Iowa, and it's such an economic benefit to the state," said Ludwig, who also raises cattle. "We're proud to support Iowa agriculture."