On The Chopping Block?

A three-generation business is nearing an end in a rural town in our area.
But the current owner is hoping to pass it on to someone outside the family.
Jim Olson takes us to Westby, Montana, where the butcher shop may close.

Al Ekness has been cutting meat for 62 years…after learning the trade from his father.

(Al Ekness, Al’s Meats Butcher) “When I graduated from high school I wanted to go to meat cutting school and he said you know more about cutting meat than they do so why the hell go there.”

Al’s son Jeff joined the family business in Westby, Montana in 2004

(Jeff Ekness, Al’s Meats Butcher) “This was a big red Angus. Good animal for the customer. Bad animal for me. They’re just too big.”

He says the heavy lifting of the business of butchering has caught up with him.

(Jeff Ekness, Al’s Meats Butcher) “Hard on the body.”

So he’s retiring from meat-cutting later this year – heading for a job as the city clerk – across the street from the butcher shop and grocery store he’s owned since 2005. And he’s searching for someone to take over and keep the only butcher shop in many miles from closing.

(Jeff Ekness, Al’s Meats Butcher) “The area needs somebody. Most of my competition is at a minimum 70 miles away so there’d be a big void over here.”
(Chuck Hanson, Noonan Rancher) “I hate to see it go. We’re going to have to go a long way to get our beef processed.” Williston – 80 miles

Chuck Hanson travels the 40 miles from Divide County, North Dakota to Westby every year to have a couple of his cattle butchered – and soak in the atmosphere.

(Chuck Hanson, Noonan Rancher) “They’re just a good old country store. My style of store. People are good. Friendly people.”
(Jeff Ekness, Al’s Meats Butcher) “You can see how big the animal was by how big the round is. It kind of looks like a Fred Flinstone kind of steak.”

But unless Jeff finds a buyer for the butcher shop, a big part of this business will die off this year – after 75 years in the family. In Westby, Montana, Jim Olson, KX News.

Jeff Ekness says even if the custom cutting part of the business has to close, he intends to keep the grocery store and smokehouse open.

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