George Stachecki was a meat manager with Allied Foods in the late ’60s when he was transferred to Spokane. Soon afterward, Allied sold its western division, and Stachecki had two options: follow his employer or put down roots.
He chose the latter, opened Angus Meats and Delicatessen on the North Side and started a tradition of quality products and customer service that continues today.
Earlier this year, Angus Meats was given an AGORA Award for outstanding small business – its second in five years – by Greater Spokane Incorporated.
Tom Stachecki and his wife, Leslie, bought the family business 12 years ago. During a recent interview, they described the company’s evolution and their quest to stay ahead of the competition.
S-R: Why did your dad choose the name Angus Meats?
Tom: He didn’t want to call it George’s Meats. Way before the Angus name was popularized by Stuart Anderson and others, the breed represented quality. Angus also would be listed first in the phone book, so he thought that was the perfect name.
S-R: What is your earliest recollection of the family business?
Tom: We moved to Spokane when I was 14, and I would clean underneath the meat counters in the retail stores.
S-R: Did you assume this would be your career?
Tom: No. I enrolled at Eastern planning to become a mechanical engineer. A year later, my dad started the business and asked me if I wanted to go to work for him, and I’ve been here ever since.
S-R: Have you held just about every job at Angus Meats?
Tom: Yes. At first there was only my mom, my dad and me. I started out cleaning up, then making patties and gradually working into trimming meat. Eventually I moved up to running the plant, and did that for 15 years before Leslie and I bought the business.
S-R: Was your dad your mentor?
Tom: Absolutely. He loved what he did, and always whistled while he worked.
S-R: What about him impressed you most?
Tom: His work ethic. That’s why I work a lot of hours. But I’m never bored. It’s more exciting and complicated today than it’s ever been.
S-R: Anything else?
Tom: He taught me to go where the business takes us. We started in retail out on Waikiki Road. One night the Spokane Country Club came in. They’d burned some roasts, and we were the closest meat company. My dad saved the day, and afterward they said, “Wow, you guys have some pretty good stuff.” So the country club started buying from us, and then Wandermere started buying from us, The Gaslight, Freddy’s – all these places on the North Side – and that’s how we transitioned to becoming USDA approved.
S-R: What does “USDA approved” mean?
Tom: When you service restaurants, hotels, hospitals, institutions, you have to be USDA approved, which means USDA inspectors come in here every day.
S-R: Did you get out of retail completely?
Tom: People who were accustomed to coming into our retail store still occasionally buy from us, but they have to order 10- or 12-pound cases, because we’re wholesale. And they’re going to pay more than they’d pay at a grocery store because we offer a higher-grade product. It’s possible for anyone to buy directly from us, but we don’t promote that. We cater to restaurants.
Leslie: We also offer a retail line through Yoke’s Fresh Market called “Savory Choices.”
S-R: What distinguishes you from other meat wholesalers?
Tom: We gravitate toward the better-quality items. Everything’s done by hand, and we cater to the specific needs of each customer.
Leslie: For instance, we hand-turn our corned beef every day for 21 days in my father-in-law’s recipe. When a chef wants a certain age, a certain marbling, a certain kind of fat left on, that’s what we do.
Tom: Another thing that distinguishes us is that we’re constantly coming up with new items for restaurants. We just introduced what we call a Smash Burger – a blend of fresh course ground beef chuck and beef brisket.
Leslie: And we don’t just deal in beef. If a chef is putting on a luau, Tom will bring in a whole pig.
Tom: When someone wants something unusual, I go out and find it.
S-R: Who are your clients?
Tom: Most of the independent restaurants in Spokane, from D. Lish’s and Zip’s to Spencer’s steakhouse, the Steam Plant Grill and the country clubs.
S-R: You won the 2012 AGORA Award as a small business. Are you content to stay small?
Tom: One of my dad’s philosophies was that if you stay within your demographics, you can control your expenses and your service. As you expand, those tend to go down. So we never apologize for being small.
S-R: What does it take to succeed in this business?
Tom: Employees who are willing to work as hard as we do. It takes seven years to become a journeyman meat cutter, and we have a great crew.
S-R: How do you two divide labor?
Tom: I handle everything on the production side.
Leslie: I do all the personnel, the HR, accounting and marketing – everything on the admin side.
S-R: What’s a typical work day?
Leslie: Nothing is ever typical around here. Each day starts with a pre-operation check at 5:30 in the morning. There’s an inspector on site all the time, and everything is examined before we push the on button. Then the rest of the team comes in – the grinders, meat cutters, wrappers, warehouse crew – and they work until 3:30 or 4. Nobody goes home until everything has been cut, ground, packaged, labeled appropriately, recorded and stored in the freezers or coolers for the night. Then the sanitation people come in, tear everything down and completely clean everything with biodegradable chemicals. If they don’t do their job, we can’t process the next day. So we make sure it’s done right every night.
S-R: What challenges do you face?
Tom: Trying to control what we can’t. We have very strict purchasing policies, yet sometimes things go wrong upstream, beyond our control, and they can affect our business. That’s why each of our departments continually re-evaluates itself on standards, safety and accountability.
S-R: What are you most proud of?
Tom: That we’ve stayed with the same principles my dad started with. Sometimes when customers leave the area, I’ve taken the opportunity to ask them what they’d recommend we do differently, and they always say, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
S-R: How do you relax?
Leslie: It’s really hard to take a vacation any longer than 10 days, because I have to come in and do payroll. But we’ll have been married 35 years in October, and to keep that marriage thriving we have what we call “minuet weekends” – short vacations – where we leave as soon as I can get away from the computer on Thursday and go skiing or golfing or go to the lake, and we don’t come back until Sunday night. We still take our phones and laptops, because you never know when something will come up.
S-R: When you go out to dinner, what do you order?
Tom: Since I own my own meat company, I barbecue a lot. So when I go out, I usually order fish.