- Associated Press - Sunday, August 17, 2014

MCCLELLAND, Iowa (AP) - Jon Nelson left life in the city as a restaurateur to pursue a career as a butcher and meat curer in an Iowa town of about 150 people.

The 36-year-old frequently drove past an empty building on Main Street in McClelland, which is about 16 miles northeast of Council Bluffs.

“I always drove by this building and always kind of thought it looked like a little butcher shop,” Nelson told The Daily Nonpareil (https://bit.ly/1t40IKx ). “This was a good place to work on my craft.”

In March, the former owner of Cellar 19, a wine and deli shop in Council Bluffs, opened Jon’s Naturals in an effort to bring local meat to consumers.

“I was just incredibly frustrated with the availability of locally sourced proteins,” Nelson said. “I felt there should be an easier way to get local products from small farms in Iowa.”

Now Nelson’s meats are featured in about 30 restaurants in Council Bluffs, Omaha and Lincoln, Neb. His products are featured at many downtown Omaha restaurants, which include M’s Pub, Vivace, Kitchen Table and Block 16. Other Omaha restaurants include Lot 2, Benson Brewery, The French Bulldog and Pig & Finch.

Jon’s Naturals receives its meat on a weekly basis from Truebridge Foods in Omaha, Grassrun Farms in Dorchester and other farms in Illinois.

“Your product shouldn’t have to come from a truck 1,500 miles away,” Nelson said. “Some of the best products out there are in our own backyard.”

Nelson said he doesn’t have agreements with southwest Iowa farmers because meat delivered to restaurants must be USDA inspected. In the Council Bluffs area, there are fewer large-scale livestock farms than other parts of Iowa.

And though Nelson receives 85 percent of his profits through restaurant sales, he still decided to open his business in a rural area because, at heart, he’s a small-town guy.

“The bulk of my revenue comes from distribution, but I do enjoy making the sausages and curing pastrami and corned beef,” he said. “Some days it can be very quiet because it’s a small town, but some days, it can be busy.”

Nelson lives in rural Council Bluffs with his wife, Libby, and their two boys Jon, 1, and Frank, 6 months.

“I like the small-town aspect, and I think more businesses are going back to the small towns,” Nelson said.

The businessman also said he sees a trend of consumers wanting local meat.

“The butcher shops all went away when the big boxes opened up, but now I think they’ve started to come back a little bit,” he said. “People are starting to stay away from the big box stores. They’re wanting to know where their products are coming from. They want traceability.”

Lori Holste, executive director of the Western Iowa Development Association, said it’s word of mouth that helps local businesses such as Nelson’s thrive in communities - large and small.

“For small communities, I think people are really finding nice businesses like that,” Holste said. “They do really well in small communities because people like to come out and find a simple way of living, and they like to find these hidden gems.”

Nelson said he also opened his store in McClelland so he could grow customer loyalty.

Holste said: “(Jon’s Naturals) is a good way of proving business can be done anywhere. You have to find your customer, and you have to be able to reach out to your customer, but the business end of it can be done anywhere.”

Selections at Jon’s Naturals don’t include additives such as nitrates or phosphates, common preservatives used in curing and sausage-making. His beef is 100 percent grass fed, and all products are antibiotic- and hormone-free. Nelson cuts his own steaks, grinds hamburger and chorizo and also produces about five different types of sausage per week. On a good week, he sells about 2,500 pounds of product.

Nelson said he hopes that one day his brand will appear in grocery stores. He also wants to market his line of deli meats once they are USDA approved.

While deliveries are currently only available to restaurants, Nelson plans to expand that service to area residents. Customers will be able to order meat bundles, which will include turkeys during the holiday season, and have them shipped to their door. Orders also can be picked up in McClelland.

Nelson said his prices are competitive with other businesses and grocery stores.

“I might just be a cut above, but I think the product is more of a premium,” he said.


Information from: The Daily Nonpareil, https://www.nonpareilonline.com

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