After one year in business, Bolling’s Meat Market has plans to double its size.
“We knew this building wouldn’t work,” said Cara Bolling, manager. “We bought it for the location.”
At the intersection of Madison Avenue and State Street, the market is a hotbed of activity. Plans to extend the building 20 feet to the west will allow the addition of five new freezers and a 12-foot display case for freshly cut meats.
“It’ll give us more room for fresh and frozen meats,” Bolling said.
The market will close Sunday for the first stages of construction, but otherwise will remain open during the expansion.
The increased volume likely means an additional full-time employee will be needed to manage the cash register and help stock items, she said.
Although Bolling, 26, grew up in the meat business, she didn’t think it was her life’s calling. She has a degree in political science, after all.
“I’ve always loved politics and thought I’d go on to law school,” she said.
She might have followed that route, except while a senior at Kansas State University she landed a job in the hospitality business “which paid pretty well at the time,” or at least enough to derail her plans for more school.
The job with Hyatt Hotels took her to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she became a manager of its food and beverage department. From there she took a job with the Cheesecake Factory, bought a house and almost settled down.
Instead, two things happened: She became pregnant and the recession hit.
“The hospitality industry was the first to feel the depressed economy,” she said. “All of a sudden I realized my job wasn’t so secure after all.”
She also realized that she wanted to raise her child near family.
A single mom, Bolling returned to Moran where her parents, Mitch and Sharon Bolling, live and operate Moran Locker. Her grandparents are Chub and Helen Bolling of Bronson.
Since the opening of the Iola market, Bolling has moved to Iola where she rents a home.
As a youth, Bolling had two venues to learn the meat processing business. Her grandparents handled chickens, turkeys, pheasants and emu in their Bronson business.
“That was where I worked summers,” she said.
Then during the school year she and her brothers, Seth and Austin, worked at their parent’s butcher shop where they thoroughly learned the trade and art of cutting and processing meat.
Today, Seth and Austin are both students at Pittsburg State University. Austin is pursuing a degree in business; Seth in education. Neither have voiced interest in the family business, Bolling said. Although Seth works part-time in the deli meat department at Dillons grocery store.
All along Moran Locker attracted scores of customers from Iola, Chanute and Garnett, Bolling said, and the family pondered branching out.
Then in 2004 when the butchery was destroyed by fire, “the conversation started again about building in Iola – or not at all,” she said.
Instead, Mitch and Sharon reinvested in their hometown and the topic of expanding was put on the back burner. In 2009, while she was still living in Florida, “I almost said ‘yes’ to the Iola idea, but backed out at the last moment. I just couldn’t tie myself down.”
Funny how parenthood changes priorities.
So, early in her pregnancy, Bolling moved home the summer of 2010 to learn the ins and outs of the business side of a meat market – “What to buy and how much to stock” – and on the weekend of Farm-City Days, opened up shop.
Her son, Aidan, was born March 17.
He’s as much of a fixture at the market as any of the staff, said Debbie David, who’s worked fulltime for the Bolling family for nine years.
“He’s pretty popular,” David said. When he’s not in someone’s arms, he’s content in his play pen watching the activity of the market.
BUYING MEAT can intimidate those unfamiliar with the variety of cuts and how they are best prepared. Bolling is more than happy to help educate customers and share recipes she and her mother have found bring out a cut’s flavors.
“I answer questions all day long,” she said of pairing meat with recipes. A handy poster on the market’s wall shows the various cuts of meats and if they’re good to marinate, braise, grill, broil, stir fry, roast or stew.
Bolling regularly attends conferences at K-State that teach new cutting techniques and marketing ideas. The education has made her more selective.
“I won’t carry chuck steaks. They’re too tough,” she said.
Bolling said the “toughest” steak she’ll carry is a sirloin, which is particularly good for stews, fajitas and stir fry.
Price-wise, the market stays competitive by keeping track of its competition.
“We try to have the same prices or under,” she said of other grocers.
For customers, Bolling keeps the most recent newspaper advertisement of store specials taped to the checkout counter. Popular items are bundles of meat that typically include pork, beef, chicken and a Kansas Maid pastry from a plant in Madison.
Ground beef is their biggest seller, “by far,” Bolling said, but she also has a steady clientele for their mouth-watering filet mignons.
What makes it so good?
“We use young steer meat, only,” she said. “Not off a cow, or a bull or an older steer.
“It’s a more expensive cut, so I get lots of questions how to best cook it. People don’t want to mess up a $15 steak.”
During the outdoor grilling season, Bolling estimates butcher Mark Shinn will cut up to 10 tenderloins a day, yielding 50 of the delicious steaks.
“It’s always on hand, even though we may not have it in the case,” Bolling said. “During the colder weather, stew meat is more popular, and I hate to have meat cut that I can’t sell right away.”
Bolling has a two-day limit on freshly cut meats before she’ll freeze it. On the flip side, fresh meat is always fresh off the carcass.
“We never sell fresh meat that was previously frozen,” she said.
Certain days are designated for the cutting of certain meats.
“On Tuesdays we cut pork. Wednesdays, it’s beef. Thursdays, whatever we didn’t get to. And Fridays, chicken and bacon,” she said.
Ground beef, however, is ground every day.
Besides the building’s expansion, Bolling also has plans to increase the store’s inventory.
“We’ll carry more seafood, lamb and buffalo, more deli meats and cheeses, maybe another dessert than cheesecakes and pastries, and more grocery items,” she said.
Lamb is due to arrive Dec. 5.
“Only 16 legs of lamb will be available,” she said, adding that some orders for rack of lamb have already been made.
In the spring, buffalo will be made available.
If she had more time, Bolling said she’d devote it to making specialty sausages, chops and bacon and well as hand-pressed and seasoned patties.
“I’ll do it on request, but it’s very labor-intensive,” she said, recalling how a customer requested pineapple-flavored sausage that she’d experienced in Kansas City. “I love doing custom work. I just need more hours in the day.”
She also dreams of some day adding a deli section to her business where freshly made sandwiches could be offered.
“In Florida, I lived across the street from a deli where I always ordered ‘The Monster,’ – a sandwich piled high with three kinds of meat.”
What made the sandwich so good was the meat was freshly cut for each sandwich, and there was plenty of it.
“Customers want two things for a good sandwich – ample meat and cheese.”