Story City Locker: Five Years In, Iowa Couple Made the Right Choice

STORY CITY, Iowa -- It’s been five years since the sign went up and the door opened, and the Gustafsons got back to basics.

“There used to be meat lockers or meat processors in every county, in almost every town,” says Ty Gustafson, standing in the retail portion of his place on West Broad Street.

They’re NOW one of the few -- and one of the only to open this century.

They process everything from goats to game -- beef to boars.

“(We put) them into pretty cuts that people are familiar with,” he says, pointing to his small crew of young butchers.

The customers of the Story City Locker want to know all they can about where their food comes from.

“People who really dig food,” laughs Ty's wife, Bobbie, who co-owns and manages it with him.

These customers WANT to know this stuff.

“You have that direct connection there,” adds Ty.

From who wrapped the meat, to who cut it, to how long it's aged.

“For beef, it’ll hang in here for two weeks," says Ty, walking between the giant sides of beef. "Pork, lamb and goat will hang in here for a week.”

The farther back you go in here, the less you want to see. Meat so fresh the body heat is still rising from the carcass.

We’ll stop there, and tell you Ty Gustafson didn’t just CHOOSE this life, he gave up a successful career in computers to have it.

“We took off out of Chicago O’Hare," he remembers, "was on a plane, and the pilot came on and said ‘Sit back and relax—in 12 hours we’ll be in Osaka, Japan.' At that moment I just went ‘what am I doing here?’"

Bobbie felt the same way.

“We really missed him," she says," and our daughters were spending a lot of time without him.”

Ty grew up on a farm, and family friends owned the Atlantic Meat Locker. He knew this world and Bobbie knew the one outside...was changing.

It was headed back to a place where local food was in demand.

“While he was managing construction, I was visiting with farmers to find out what services they were lacking,” says Bobbie.

Farmers wanted a place to process their grass-fed beef and goats, and pasture-farrowed hogs. And customers wanted food they could trace to good, clean, ethical source.

"They see these recalls that happen -- tens of thousands of pounds of meat that get recalled or these type of things—and they get concerned about that,” Ty explains.

What they’re also concerned about is the animals themselves. And they’re here, too.

There’s no other way to get meat.

“We don’t enjoy that part of it," says Ty of the slaughtering or "conversion" that happens in the back room. "I mean it’s a necessary evil to the process.”

Their methods are approved by the Animal Welfare Institute. The black pens and white noise calm the cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep. These are designs by renowned animal scientist, Temple Grandin.

Conscientious customers approve.

“We have a lot of people who come in who used to be vegan, or vegetarian," Ty points out, "and it’s because of animal treatment.”

Respect for the animal begets respect for all it yields. Not just the prime steaks and perfect bacon (cured and smoked here)…but everything.

“Got a tray full of bones here for the Blank Park Zoo," says Ty, pointing to a heap of fresh, grass-fed femurs and hip joints, "to help feed the tigers and the lions and stuff like that.”

They’ll get a tax write off for that. They’ll sell the hides and render the fat, and apply every last lesson learned over the last five years.

“We’ve learned what’s profitable and what isn’t," says Bobbie, who manages the books. "Then we'll gradually remove what isn’t profitable and continue to invest in what is.”

This winter they’ll invest in Sharla, and Austin, and John Mark, and the rest of their full-time employees with a full benefits package.

“My most important customers are my employees,” says Ty.

They’re among the many who’ve bought in to the Gustafson’s idea; that sometimes the basics are still the best.

“There’s a need for this type of industry on a small scale,” Ty says.