Exit here for South Dakota meat: Wall Meat Processing plans facility in New Underwood
It’s not by chance the planned I-90 Meats will be named such. Every detail of the proposed 4,000 head per year, federally-inspected beef, hog and lamb plant to be built in New Underwood, S.D., has been thought out for years by Ken Charfauros of Box Elder, S.D. Now thanks to a $3.3 million grant from USDA Rural Development, his blueprints are one step closer to reality. “It really is location, location, location, right?” says Charfauros. The facility, to be built by the partnership CNF Enterprises, LLC, made up of Charfauros, Janet Niehaus, and Tom Fitch, will not only be located in a prime location for interstate traffic, but will build on Charfauros’ solid reputation of processing local South Dakota beef as owner of Wall Meat Processing. Charfauros also owns the Red Rock Restaurant in Wall, which serves local beef, as well as a retail outlet in Rapid City where they sell their product.
A recent press release from the USDA highlighting the proposed new 30,000 square foot facility has shined new light on his protein businesses, but Charfauros says it’s just another step in the process of getting high-quality local meat to the general public.
Charfauros bought Wall Meat Processing seven years ago when he retired from the U.S. Air Force. “My son had just graduated from South Dakota State University and we love to cut meat as a family,” he says. With a stellar focus on customer service, strong alliances with local ranchers and turning pandemic lemons into lemonade, Wall Meats Processing has developed a quality reputation.
“In our seven years we figured out that protein production is a growing business, we realized people really want to know where their food is coming from,” he says. After purchasing Wall Meat Processing, Charfauros started to promote local beef to food service operations, then bought his own restaurant. Because of the restaurant they started to grow and buy more beef. When the pandemic shuttered the restaurant in 2020 Charfauros moved his food service employees to the meat plant. When the grocery shelves went bare of proteins shortly afterward, he had a surplus and started selling meat out of a reefer truck in Rapid City. That demand showed the need for a retail outlet – he opened Wall Meats Rapid, which continues to grow.
“During the pandemic we didn’t raise our pricing – we just thought the crisis wasn’t the right time for that,” Charfauros says. “I think that really created support from ag producers and consumers who used our services.”
Before the pandemic tipped the carts, Charfauros had already started on plans to build a state-of-the-art processing facility. He had blueprints, was working to acquire the property and was organizing investor meetings in January of 2020. The pandemic hit in February.
But from that disruption, his consumer base grew. “We had lines of people the length of three football fields waiting to buy meat from us,” he says.
With the world stabilized, last May Charfauros submitted an application and heard back in November they had been selected for a Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program grant from USDA to help eligible processors expand their capacity. USDA Rural Development states the grants were designed to encourage competition and sustainable growth in the U.S. meat processing sector, and to help improve supply chain resiliency.
Teresa Hall is a local rancher and mayor of New Underwood, S.D. She says she’s excited about the potential for the new plant. “It would impact New Underwood greatly: one for the sales tax benefit; two, it will open up good jobs for locals; and three, the learning center will create some great opportunities for students and adults in the area.”
Hall says New Underwood is a bedroom community to Rapid City, and despite being a rural area, she’s noted that “people who are not rural are also waking up to the local beef movement. They are becoming aware that local beef is available and the easier it is for them to get it, the more the word will spread.”
She says Charfauros is smart, patient and doing his homework thoroughly. Although a lot of details are still in the works, she looks forward to having the processing plant in their area.
Charfauros says the new plant is several years out, although a timeline is not defined yet. He is currently working on building a finance and investment team, then will move into the engineering and architecture stage followed by construction. He has a letter of intent to purchase real estate in New Underwood.
The facility will include slaughter, fabrication and processing and a ready to eat (cooked product) section. It will process beef, pork and lamb and possibly bison. A unique aspect will be a learning center with classrooms and viewing areas above both the fab and cooked product floors. Wall Meats Rapid currently has a student learning program in partnership with Western South Dakota Technical College, where students use their facility as a lab to gain hands-on meat processing and retail methods to gain a degree in meat processing.
The new plant will employee 36 people, but Charfauros is already working on his labor force and training extra people in the Wall facility. “We need to get folks trained and the day we turn lights on we plan to cut beef.”
He is currently focused on avenues for additional financing – the $3.3 million only covers 20 percent of the bill. He says there are options for additional grants and a lot of people and businesses interested in investing in local meat processing.
For now, his goal is to under-promise and over-deliver.
“We don’t want to be a fly-by-night processor; we are in this for the long haul,” says Charfauros. “The most important thing is to get our producers some recognition and sell their meat through our stores, and get them a little more pay for their high-quality product.”