Sausage house owners endure best, worst of times
Partners Jason Callahan and Jeremy Sheffler have weathered plenty of highs and lows in just nine months of operating Peabody Sausage House and Locker.
A whirlwind kicked up by a pandemic bought bad and then good news — but the two have survived and have plans to expand.
“We like a challenge,” Jason Callahan said.
Sheffler added, “We’re problem solvers.”
People who visit the store on 9th St. often make a joke out of the toughness of this past year — and so do they.
“People keep saying what a time to buy a locker,” Callahan said. “Yes, but no. It would have been nice to be able to breathe when we took this over.”
The pair’s initial glee with brisk business that already had pushed bookings into the new year collapsed as they worried one of their seven employees would get come down COVID-19.
“It would have been a disaster, almost,” Callahan said.
The same outbreak of a virus that carried the threat of quarantine kept shoppers close to home, which gave them plenty of new customers.
“We had a significant amount of people even from the Kansas City area that used to shop elsewhere,” Callahan said.
Savvy customers wanted to know where their food was coming from, Sheffler said.
“We are definitely getting people who are more educated about small town, local butchers,” he said. “That has helped us a lot.”
The business got another shot in the arm in October in the form of a $50,000 grant through the CARES act. The money was awarded to help smaller food producers boost their capacity to cope with increased demand.
It could not have come at a better time.
The sausage house was “booked out” when they bought it, but the two still wanted to expand into new lines of business and keep as many customers happy as they could.
That was not always easy to do as more customers bought cows, chickens and pigs from local farmers for processing as meat vanished from some stores.
They had to turn some customers down.
“We still get seven or eight calls a day, ‘Hey can you fit me in?’ or ‘When’s your next opening?’ ” Callahan said. “I’ve been called everything but a good person for not having room for someone.”
Callahan and Sheffler bought new trays with the grant money to help them organize their freezers, a new scale, a label maker, and a vacuum pack machine for more efficient packaging.
They used the rest to update equipment that was beginning to wear down under a glut of orders.
“The harder we started running, the more things started breaking, basically,” Callahan said. “It’s like that old car that no one drives except to church every Sunday and then gets handed to some 16-year-old kid that goes jamming through all the gears.”
The upgrade boosted production at their plant 30 to 40%.
This next year, they have set their hopes on rolling out new products and customers.
A few new items they introduced already were hits. The Sausage House processed 140 deer and other game for the first time.
Snack sticks they introduced were a big hit. The two are considering marketing cheeses from an area dairy at the store.
Callahan and Sheffler plan to “hit some pavement” and develop more wholesale accounts and retail.
A new freezer to display products for customers who drop in is also on their wish list.
“People love the paper wrap, but the visual is not there,” Callahan said. “People eat with their eyes a lot, more than they are willing to admit.”