ASHLAND – After nearly a century in the business of raising cattle, a local family farm is breaking into the retail business with the opening of a downtown storefront.
Raikes Beef Co. will open its doors at 1408 Silver Street in downtown Ashland in the middle of the month.
Their beef is a cross between the Japanese wagyu and American Angus, according to Jarrod Knorr, who is working with Justin and Lindsey Raikes on the new business venture.
Wagyu beef is a Japanese breed of cattle that is genetically predisposed to have meat that is intensely marbled.
Knorr started working on the cross breed about three years ago. He chose the red strain of the Wagyu, working directly with a genetic supplier in Japan.
“We went with Wagyu for the cross to increase marbling and grading,” he said.
Crossing the breed with Angus cattle was a natural fit, since Raikes Farm Enterprises, where Knorr is cattle manager and Justin Raikes is president, raises about 9,000 head of Angus.
Plus, the Angus is a hearty breed that is able to withstand the Nebraska climate better than the Wagyu, Justin Raikes said.
The result melds the top qualities of each breed.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Justin Raikes said.
It took two years to get the product quality to the standards that Knorr and the Raikes were happy with before they felt they could attempt to sell their version of the Wagyu/Angus cross.
After they had the product to the quality they wanted, they focused on finding a way to sell their beef.
“Ever since Jarrod led the charge on trying the cross out in the first place, we’ve been curious how to ultimately get it to market,” said Justin Raikes.
For about a year they marinated the idea. Then a storefront opened up in downtown Ashland, just a few miles from the Raikes cattle operation in rural Ashland. They felt the community would support their new business.
“What we realized is there’s a lot of local interest,” Justine Raikes said.
They hired Steve Ronhovde with LMS Services to remodel the store. They clad the counter and some of the walls in wood and added a large chalkboard that will advertise their product with lettering by local artist Jessica Buller.
As the store nears its opening date, the trio are excited to become a part of the downtown Ashland business community.
“We’re really bullish on Ashland and the downtown area,” said Justin Raikes. “I think there’s real potential here.”
Customers who come to Raikes Beef Co. from Ashland or other areas will find beef that has been graded “prime,” another factor that sets it apart from the beef that can be purchased in regular grocery stores, which is generally labeled “choice,” Lindsey Raikes explained.
“Prime is normally reserved for steakhouses,” said Justin Raikes.
Even then, few steakhouses have 100 percent Wagyu beef, Knorr added.
Lindsey Raikes said in the store they will educate the customers on the various cuts they sell as well as what the different grades mean.
Their selection will not be exotic.
“We’ll have all the steak cuts people are going to expect,” said Knorr, along with roasts and brisket, he added.
The ground beef will be sold in packages or already formed in regular and slider size patties, Lindsey Raikes said.
“Our ground beef is exceptionally good because we’re putting higher quality cuts into our hamburger,” she added. “So you really get that flavor profile.”
Customers who walk into the new Raikes Beef Co. store will be treated to samples so they can taste the special attributes the Wagyu/Angus cross provides. In addition, they will be able to taste the meat prepared with spices and rubs that are also sold in the store.
When determining their inventory of spices and rubs, Lindsey Raikes said they were careful to source as locally as possible. One of the rubs is made by Billy Buck’s Smokehouse in Ashland, while others come from companies in Lincoln and other places in eastern Nebraska.
The store will also sell grilling accessories. The plan is that customers will walk out of the door with all the fixings for a top quality meal.
“We want to make sure people have everything they need to have the best possible experience,” said Justin Raikes.
Raising quality beef has been a cornerstone of the Raikes philosophy of raising cattle since the family first began doing so nearly 100 years ago. Justin Raikes said his father, the late Ron Raikes, brought cattle back to the forefront for Raikes Farm Enterprises in the 1990s.
“Cattle feeding seemed to be his primary focus,” said Knorr, who worked with Ron when he started working for the company in 2003 while he was still in school.
Justin Raikes said they feel their new venture into the land of crossbreeding is a chance for them to build on something his father started.
“It’s a nice logical extension of where Ron was pointing,” he said.
The crossbred herd has 185 cattle, Knorr said. They start out in a cow/calf operation south of Basset in north central Nebraska. They come to the Ashland yard for finishing and are harvested and processed in Omaha at a small packing house.
The cows are fed on a combination of grass and grain.
“They are grass fed and grain finished,” said Knorr.
However, they are looking at ways to increase the grazing aspect of the operation to meet consumer demands for grass-fed beef, Justin Raikes said.
Also in response to consumer demands, the cross-bred beef is hormone free. Raikes Enterprises is also considering eliminating hormones from their entire cattle operation, Justine Raikes said.
“We know that’s important to people,” he said.
Raikes Beef Co. also knows that quality is important to people, and their aim with the new store is to provide just that.
“We’re trying to offer a unique product that has some great character,” Justin Raikes said.
Justin and Lindsey Raikes and Knorr collaborated on all aspects of the store, epitomizing the teamwork that they have grown accustomed to as part of the entire cattle operation.
“It’s definitely been a reflection of the way we operate,” said Justin Raikes.
The team will continue to work together to run the new store, with Lindsey Raikes as store manager. She said they will be adding employees as they go along.
Lindsey Raikes is also working on promoting the store. She is finalizing their Facebook page, which will announce the official opening date, scheduled to take place in mid-May.