Butchered: Meat cutting runs in the family
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Butchered: Meat cutting runs in the family

Nov 29, 2023

Since 1976, Hilltop Meat Market has been in the Wick family. When Dennis and Linnea Wick bought the business at 105 Pfau St., it was surrounded by fields and farmland. Now, it's tucked into a cozy residential neighborhood, its zoning grandfathered in by the city.

Dennis Wick, who says he has no plans for retirement, agrees with President Joe Biden when he recently called for more young people to become meat cutters.

There are no schools offering meat cutting or butchering courses in Minnesota. Dennis took a one-year course in the profession in Pipestone years ago. His daughter Bethany, who has joined the business, was trained on the job, as are most meat cutters today.

Both Dennis and Bethany say they came to meat cutting almost by accident. Without any idea what he wanted to do after high school, Dennis walked into a school counselor's office where he found a poster advertising for a meat cutter.

That gave him the idea, though he said he was also interested in working as a heavy equipment operator. When he toured a site for that training, the men there were laughing about his long hair. He also found them greasy and dirty, and decided on meat cutting.

Bethany found her entry into the business quite similar. "One day, my mom picked me up behind West High School and told me I was going to work." Especially back then, a woman in the meat cutting or butchering business was rare.

Although her first choice in a career would likely have been in the medical field because of personal medical issues, she worked alongside her parents and has no regrets about joining the business.

"My farmers, my customers — they’re everything to me," she said.

None of the butchering done by Hilltop Meat Market is done at the Pfau Street location. It's always been done on the farm.

"A farmer doesn't even have to be there," Dennis said. "We just get the call to come and pick out the biggest animal, oftentimes, and we go and take care of it." The butchering is done with the aid of a cargo truck.

Bethany said she took the reins on the butchering portion of the business when her mother was no longer able to do it. She spends a couple of days a week out in the truck and the rest of the time in the store. She takes a couple of part-time employees with her when possible. Other times, her father accompanies her to do the butchering.

Father and daughter are both very proud of their work. The store offers meat from buffalo, beef, pork, elk, chicken, duck, goose, and even sunfish and walleye.

One meat not offered at Hilltop Meat Market is turkey. Dennis said that's because he hasn't been able to find a source for good-tasting turkeys. Bethany, however, said she’ll find whatever a customer asks for. "I’ll even find alligator meat if someone wants it."

Having been in the butchering/meat cutting business for so long has made it difficult for Dennis to eat pre-packaged meat from a grocery store or even eat meat in a restaurant.

"We used to provide meat to every restaurant in the city," he said. Cheaper pricing for meats injected with salt, phosphates and water changed that, according to Dennis.

Although Hilltop Meat Market has been in business since 1956, with two owners before the Wicks bought it, it's unclear what will happen to the business in the future. Neither of Bethany's children has shown an interest in it.

Dennis hopes to see some education programs start up at community colleges in the state. Although it's undoubtedly more complicated than this, he said a good meat cutter needs to be handy with a knife and a band saw. They also have to be willing to work hard, and just show up, he said.

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