Local meat market provides fresh farm-to-table products from around Kansas

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Bryan Harpel, manager of Heartland Meat Market, stands in front of the store at 1410 Kasold Drive, in Lawrence. The market specializes in locally produced beef, pork, lamb and goat. Heartland’s sister store, Yoder Meats, ships fresh meat, bierocks, cinnamon buns and farm-fresh eggs weekly to the Lawrence market.

Kay Boydston stopped at Heartland Meat Market in west Lawrence Thursday for slices of smoked turkey breast.

“This is really fresh,” said Boydston, as she watched Bryan Harpel, the store’s manager and butcher, cut up the turkey.

“One time I brought my granddaughter here with me, and we ate the turkey before we got home,” Boydston said. “Everyone at home was disappointed.”

Often when she shops at the market, at 1410 Kasold Drive, she purchases cinnamon rolls that are baked at Heartland’s sister store, Yoder Meats, three hours away in the Amish community of Yoder, Kan.

“The smoked turkey is a recipe perfected over 40 years in Yoder,” Harpel said. “It’s one of our top sellers. Other top sellers are the tri-tips, which look like brisket but should be cooked like a steak; smoked pork chops; beef jerky; and rib-eyes.”

Heartland Meat Market is a small butcher shop that has everything from smoked pig ears and chicken feet for the family pooch to beef sweetbreads and mountain oysters for those who like to eat the whole animal.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Bryan Harpel, manager and butcher at Heartland Meat Market, 1410 Kasold Drive, shows some of the organ meat sold at the market, including mountain oysters, left, and beef sweetbreads.

Other Yoder products in the store include cinnamon rolls, bierocks, sauerkraut, cheese, and brown eggs, which are shipped weekly. Along with selling grass and corn-fed beef raised in Jackson County, the market sells goat meat from goats raised in Ozawkie and lamb from Westmoreland.

The market is owned by Chad Bontrager, 37, who farms with his family north of Holton, and Matt McCauley, 45, a Jackson County cattle rancher who finishes cattle specifically for the store.

Their partnership began in 2016 when, together with another investor, they purchased Bowser Meat Processing in Meriden, 32 miles north of Lawrence.

Bontrager had worked at the Kansas Department of Agriculture, serving as the deputy secretary of agriculture for four years. During that time he worked with meat and poultry processors in the state and discovered that a lot of the owners of the small processing plants were reaching retirement age. Younger people, he observed, needed to step up to replace them or the businesses would disappear.

As the new owners of the Bowser plant, Bontrager said they quickly discovered the business had a big following for beef sticks, jerky and smoked pork chops, but not a lot of space for retail sales at the plant.

“We definitely had an opportunity to do more,” Bontrager said. That’s what led to opening their first retail store, Heartland Meat Market in Holton, as an outlet for the products.

In August 2017, they purchased Yoder Meats, which has its main store in Yoder and three smaller locations in Wichita. Then in October 2017, they opened the shop in Lawrence.

“I have been interested in agriculture and cattle all my life,” Bontrager said. “Taking that further into the process was interesting to me.”

Adding more value to the product as it moved from the farm became a possibility when they bought the meat processing business and then opened the small markets to sell not only their products but also the products of area producers.

Bontrager and McCauley keep their focus on farming and ranching, while Harpel manages the Lawrence shop. Harpel has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, where he learned butchering. He worked in both New York City and San Francisco before returning home to Wichita, where he worked for Yoder Meats.

“He brings a unique perspective trained as a chef,” Bontrager said. “He was just the guy we needed in Lawrence.”

The Kansas Department of Agriculture is seeing more young people investing in similar operations, offering high-quality custom meat and unique meats that are focusing on the origin of the livestock, said Heather Lansdowne, a spokeswoman with the department.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Bryan Harpel, manager and butcher at Heartland Meat Market, cuts up pieces of the subprimal meat that arrives from both Yoder Meats and Bowser Meat Processing plant in Meriden.

As the truck arrives weekly with products from the slaughterhouses in Yoder and Bowser, Harpel breaks down the subprimal cuts of beef such as top round, whole tenderloin and rib-eye.

“Our objective is to provide a better quality of meat,” he said. “This is the real farm to table.”


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.