By now, with 30-plus years of experience in the meat business, processing cattle, hogs or whatever else customers may need has become old hat for Mark Tittel, owner and operator of Mark's Meats in Halstead.
Starting out at a plant in Dodge City, Tittel juggled responsibilities handling delivery routes and working with the meat in the plant, with the latter just becoming natural after a while.
"They put a knife in my hand and it just kind of belonged there," Tittel said.
After Dodge City, Tittel worked in another small plant in Belle Plaine before going into business for himself, opening the store in Halstead in 1996.
Processing (breaking down the meat of various animals) was something Tittel admits he learned on the job, something by now he can do in his sleep. While cattle, hogs and deer are the mainstays of what is processed at Mark's Meats, Tittel admitted he has worked with a range of animals from goats, lamb and elk to more exotic fare like bear and antelope.
"Our main business is slaughtering beef and hogs for farmers either going back to them or that they sell. We have quite a few customers who do that, and then of course we sell some of our own," Tittel said.
Wednesdays are when the animals are slaughtered, and Tittel noted this week alone he had 10 cattle and eight hogs come into the shop. The rest of the week is when the processing happens. For half a cow, Tittel said it takes about 30 minutes to break down with two other employees (with Tittel butchering the cuts and the other two grinding the beef). On average, Tittel said staff will process 3,000 pounds of meat per day.
Along with processing the meat for farmers and other customers, Mark's Meats sells its own products ranging from ground beef patties to ribeyes to bratwurst. That is one skill Tittel admitted he didn't pick up on the job, but when he was first starting his business he said Kansas State University offered several seminars on how to smoke and cure meats, a service he took advantage of that continues to pay off.
Products sold by Mark's Meats have won numerous awards given out by the Kansas Meat Processor's Association over the years — awards that are prominently on display and visible immediately once you enter the store. Just this past year, Mark's Meats won Grand Champion awards at the KMPA Convention for its bratwurst, smoked bacon, smoked sausage, bone-in ham and fresh sausage.
Tillet says that recognition (the website also touts his "famous beef jerky") comes from his years of experience and commitment to quality, admitting he takes a lot of pride in the work he does.
"I like working with my hands. At the end of the day, I can show you what I've done. Whereas sitting in an office shuffling papers...it wouldn't be for me," Tillet said. "There's a lot of satisfaction just putting out a good, quality, wholesome product that you've made."
Along with award-winning products, Marks' Meats stands out as the lone meat processor in Harvey County — so it provides a major benefit to farmers who don't want to sell their products to big packing houses.
Customers come from as far as 20 miles east of Rose Hill for those regular services, while Tillet noted others will come from as far as Oklahoma to have deer broken down. Even for those not utilizing the processing offered by Mark's Meats, having access to locally-sourced food products is a win-win for anyone who makes the trip to Halstead.
"It gives anybody within driving distance access to good, quality products," Tillet said. "Oscar Mayer doesn't make stuff like this."
For more information on Mark's Meats, visit the business's website at marksmeatshalstead.com.