By Heather Carlile
Agri News staff writer
PROTIVIN, Iowa — Twenty-five years ago, Paul Polashek was a grain hauler, but wanted a change.
Although they had no previous experience in the meat business, he and his wife, Judy, bought the meat locker in Protivin.”It’s in my blood,” Paul said. Both his grandfather and uncle did similar work. Two weeks after they purchased the locker, the couple attended the Iowa Meat Processors Association’s annual convention and trade show for the first time. They didn’t know it then, but Polashek’s Locker Service would come to have a long history with the association’s meat contests.
It started two years later when they won their first award. Through the years, the honors kept coming and the Polashek’s kept their business running. In fact, business was going so good that they neglected to go to the convention for the last 10 years or so because it fell during their busy deer season. During deer season, Polashek’s Locker processes 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of deer and they make 1,000 pounds of deer sausage each day. Judy said it was their son, Adam, who convinced the family to make the trip in February to Ames for the 2008 Iowa Meat Processor’s show. He had recently returned to the business after attending college and working in Des Moines.
This year, Polashek’s Locker walked away with two Iowa Meat Processors awards: Reserve Champion for Whole Muscle Jerky and Reserve Champion for Cooked Summer Sausage.
“It was fun to go back,” Judy said. Now they’re busy as usual. Paul said on average they butcher eight beef animals and 20 hogs a week. Recently, three Polashek men — Paul, Adam and Cory, another son — stood around a table efficiently cutting and trimming meat.
Scraps were separated for hamburger while Paul sawed off chunks from a hanging beef hind quarter. When it was cut away enough, he and Cory got it down from where it hung and it landed with a big thud on the table. The meat business takes a strong back, he said.
The locker specializes in custom processing of beef, pork and venison. Judy said they can handle other animals as well, such as sheep. Their custom processing includes slaughtering, processing, and taking specific instructions on how the meat should be cut, down to a piece’s thickness.
This meat isn’t for sale, it goes back to the people who brought the animals in. They also sell meat and cheese in the front of their store and Judy delivers regularly to 10 businesses in a 50-mile radius. The meat they sell comes from inspected facilities in Iowa and Wisconsin and it’s processed in-house. A smokehouse in the back is used with many different products such as wieners, ring bologna and bratwurst. A stuffer next to it makes sausage. The storefront has frozen and fresh meat cases. Some visitors comment on what appears to be a small child peering into the front case. It’s really a doll, made by Judy’s sister, but decorated with Harley Davidson clothes.
Deer antlers are the store’s wall decorations. Paul doesn’t have time to hunt; these antlers came from deer brought in for processing. But there’s no antlers on the wall behind the front counter.
That space is devoted to their Iowa Meat Processors awards, where the latest two still need to take their place.