Meat+Poultry - August 2020 - 73

Sign of
the times
Hess Meats shifted its operational
strategy when the pandemic hit
BY S T E V E K RU T | m e a t p o u l t r y @ s o s l a n d.c o m

F

or most small meat processors who have ventured into off-premises
catering, the COVID-19 pandemic hit like a ton of bricks. Cancellations
were massive and unceasing across the industry.
For Hess Meats Inc., a 105-year-old country meat shop in Willow Street,
Pa., catering had become the main sail that powered their small family
business. Then in mid-March, the ship seemed to have fallen off the edge
of the Earth when large gatherings were prohibited.
Third-generation operator Lloyd Hess bought out his brother Paul's
share of the business in 2016, and last year turned over 51% of the
ownership to his own son, Eric.
"We were just getting into our booking peak for catering for weddings
and I got 19 cancellations in one day," Lloyd said. "We do about 75
weddings a year and many were able to be rescheduled for later in the year
or even into next year, but it almost brought us to our knees.
"About a week later, I was sitting on the back porch thinking about
what would happen to our business. We had no debt, but we had to
think about our employees - could we keep them - and things like our
insurance, medical programs and benefits. We did get a payroll protection
payment, but my thought was, 'where do we go from here?'
"Then the phone rang. It was a person I knew who asked if we could
prepare 1,000 ready-to-go meals in a day. He was representing a non-profit
which had obtained a state grant to prepare meals that could be donated
to food banks. I told him we could do it and a few days later he asked if we
could do 2,000 meals. Again, I said yes. Not long after, he wanted to know
if we could make 5,000 meals a day. I answered that I didn't know, but
then the thought of adding a night crew kind of clinched the deal. I knew
it was a long limb we would be climbing out onto, but we had to save our
business and we would figure out a way to get it done."
The Hess family's business has earned a solid reputation as a small
rural meat plant that served local Amish and Mennonite families with
meats for canning, meats they smoked, and a solid custom deer processing
trade. Diversifying into catering was deliberate and its product quality and
reputation over the years earned it the opportunity to serve over 2,000
meals buffet style (99% of it catering) at corporate functions, sometimes
more than 10 on a weekend. They did about 30 events per week. Lloyd
says 10% of their catering contracts are for pick up.
In time, they landed contracts like the Pennsylvania Farm Show where
they typically served 48,000 pork barbecue sandwiches in eight days.
www.meatpoultry.com | 08.20 | MEAT+ POULTRY

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