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Meat of the Midwest

Agriculture.com Staff 11/24/2008 @ 1:11pm

After years of preparing a business plan for going wholesale with their farm raised beef, the first check Pat and John Sondgeroth received bounced: and it was a big one. That was eight years ago. What would have been the end to most fledgling businesses proved to be trial by fire for this Mendota, Illinois, couple. They've since rallied and prospered, and their self-run business, Heartland Meats, has blossomed and become well known for their unique farm-raised Piedmontese beef.

The Sondgeroths have been raising commodity cattle for over 30 years on the very same land as John's great grandfather did in 1903. But they wanted to try something bigger. Heartland Meat's operations have grown to include raising its own feed and managing its own USDA inspected processing plant, but they only got that way by recognizing a need for something truly different.

They began by searching for the perfect breed of cattle. After stumbling across the comparatively unheard of Piedmontese breed in a magazine, and finding all the characteristics they had been looking for, they ordered a sample. "When we tasted our first Piedmontese, it was so superior to commodity beef, we hadn't a moment's hesitation," Pat says. A native to Italy, the breed is very distinctive; through natural genetics, they are double muscled, meaning the meat is more lean and tender than ordinary beef cattle.

After years of preparing a business plan for going wholesale with their farm raised beef, the first check Pat and John Sondgeroth received bounced: and it was a big one. That was eight years ago. What would have been the end to most fledgling businesses proved to be trial by fire for this Mendota, Illinois, couple. They've since rallied and prospered, and their self-run business, Heartland Meats, has blossomed and become well known for their unique farm-raised Piedmontese beef.

The healthier characteristics of the species and the Sondgeroths' refusal to use hormones or daily antibiotics on their cows led them to look to health and fitness clubs as their first clientele. Though they had carefully lined up several prospective buyers before going wholesale, the first failed check was followed by a wave of disinterest, and things began to look grim. Some helpful advice from a USDA representative pointed them towards local farmer's markets. It saved their business.

Beyond the unique flavor and quality of the beef produced by Heartland, the Sondgeroths pay close attention to their personal relationships with their customers. "They deliver themselves," says Ina. "I look forward to Wednesdays when John or Pat come in." But the Sondgeroths' care and attention isn' limited exclusively to their customers.

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