By Matt Reese
Much of rural and small town Ohio is built on the character of local agricultural businesses that have been woven into the fabric of the community — a bit of local flavor.
There a few better examples of this local flavor than Frobose Meat Locker in the village of Pemberville in Wood County. The business includes, of course, a meat locker where customers can rent freezer space to house their meats, but the business is widely known for its vast array of brat recipes and high quality, locally produced meat products. The family business is also known for its role in the local culture.
Bob and Elaine Frobose both grew up on area farms and now they operate Frobose Meat Locker with their children Ben, Jacob, Zach, and Abby. The family raises cattle and a few pigs to supply the business along with procuring poultry, pork and beef from area farms. The family owns the local IGA and a small drive through in Pemberville as well.
Ben Frobose now runs the day-to-day operations at the Meat Locker — he also dresses like a giant bratwurst, occasionally makes public appearances in his swim trunks and generally lends some local flavor to the greater Pemberville community on a regular basis. His antics definitely help drum up business for the small business that has enjoyed unique success.
“My dad worked for a family chain of grocery stores — Miller’s markets. He was their meat director. He was working in meats since he graduated from high school. My parents purchased the meat locker in 1999. Our location has been an active meat market since 1872,” Ben Frobose said. “As far as the farm is concerned, we are a fifth generation with sixth generation just around the corner. Grandpa retired in 1975 and didn’t want any of his kids to farm. When we were younger we had a few pigs for the fair, then a few extra pigs. Then we got some steers and a few more. When grandpa passed away, grandma wanted to fill the barn up with cattle again. Everything we have done on the farm supplements what we do at the Meat Locker. We have been able to continue the farm with what we do.”
They raise 50 to 70 steers a year that are marketed through their businesses.
“We get calves in the fall and they will be ready over a 10-month period. We also buy livestock from area producers and do custom work. We know their quality and management practices. We don’t just buy from anyone,” Frobose said. “The cattle are on a feedlot inside or on a covered lot outside. We buy the feed and hay and we get the majority of our hay and straw locally. We don’t raise any dairy breeds — all beef breeds. We don’t want any growth hormones or antibiotics from birth to slaughter. The cattle are fed a grain and hay diet twice a day. We feed by hand because we feel there is a better rate of gain. We also raise 20 to 50 hogs a year and rent out the rest of our crop ground.”
They do not slaughter the animals, but they handle the rest at the Meat Locker.
“Our beef goes to Ashland at E.R. Boliantz Co. and hogs go to Hasselbach Meats, Inc. in Fremont. Then the carcasses come here. We do everything but the killing and we break it down from there to a finished product. We have a smokehouse in the back too,” Frobose said. “In our busy time from late March until the end of the year, we usually do eight to 12 custom beef a week. We’ll do 2 to 4 of our own beef a week. Around two-thirds of what we do is custom and one-third retail. We’ll work with approximately 500 beef animals a year.”
Beef accounts for the highest dollar value in sales for the business, but Frobose Meat Locker is well known for a wide array of bratwurst recipes as well.
“In the summer we’ll sell more bratwurst. We make over 100 different kinds of brats we’ve developed through the years. We are known for our variety of brats. We call it bratwurst paradise,” he said. “I try to have 20 to 25 different kinds of brats in the case and some of all of them frozen all of the time. Our original brat with a traditional German flavor is the most popular. Our Hawaiian brat is pretty popular too, but they all sell.”
Poultry is also a big seller.
“Boneless skinless chicken breast is the No. 1 tonnage item for us. We sell Bowman & Landes turkeys for Thanksgiving too. People want lean meats,” Frobose said. “The consumer also wants something that is all but oven ready. They want easy, quick meals. That is something the entire grocery industry has geared itself toward.”
Frobose Meat Locker also provides a connection back to the farm that customers crave.
“The trend that has really picked up steam is the consumer really wanting to know where their food comes from. We have learned that the average meal for a family will travel 1,200 to 1,500 miles from the farm before it gets to the dinner plate. We hang our hat on people wanting a more local connection,” he said “We sell a large amount of Dei Fratelli products that are very local and we use their products in our recipes too. We try to tell our story through our family heritage and how we are producing these products. People want fresh products they know are coming directly from the farm. Our average age range of consumer is 28 and up with families and the popularity for those younger people learning to cook is growing.”
The consistent quality, local sourcing, and local flavor have turned Frobose Meat Locker into a destination customers deem worth a visit.
“At the locker the average customer comes from 10 minutes away or more. And it is 10 minutes or less at the grocery store,” Frobose said. “We are pulling from more than just the village.”
Even with the added benefits they offer, pricing is still important for Meat Locker customers.
“We feel like our prices are fair, competitive and consistent. We just sold a side of beef for $3.19 a pound and we have had that price I think for 3 years. Our ground beef prices have been steady for a couple of years now. We make changes with major market fluctuations, but it is painful for us to do that,” Frobose said. “People are looking for quality and flavor too along with a good price. We offer all of them all rolled into one.”
There certainly are challenges. Labor can be one of them.
“Labor is always an issue, especially with the economy we have and the unemployment rate being so low. The availability of the labor pool is so much shorter. We feel like we have an extremely good core group of employees that allow all of us to do what we need to do. The amount of cutting I do on an average day is very minimal because of our good group of employees,” Frobose said. “We employ a lot of college-aged kids and try to be flexible with them. We have about 50 employees between all of the businesses. We have eight family members that work full time for us. We have 12 to 14 full-time employees and the rest are part time.”
And, at the end of the day, he is proud to promote his family’s high quality meat products, especially if it involves some local Frobose flavor.
“I enjoy the marketing part of it. A couple of times a year we’ll have a day where if you wear a Hawaiian shirt in you get some free Hawaiian brats. We also have a brat tournament with brat recipes. I’ll get dressed up in a hot dog costume or jump into a snow bank in my swimsuit in the winter. We try to do things to get people to remember us,” he said. “The thing I like he most is that we are able to be as creative as possible with what we are doing. Other places won’t commit the time to do that. We put in the time to be creative — whether it is a new recipe or dressing up in a chicken suit to promote what we are doing.”