MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Elk River has seen some major changes in the last 40 years.
With a ten-fold population increase also came the lure of big box stores and national franchises.
A block on Main Street used to have a hardware store, a grocery store and a filling station. But it’s now mostly a parking lot, save one small business that stood in defiance to the wrecking ball: Elk River Meats.
“We heard it was up for sale and Dad goes, ‘Why don’t we give it a shot?'” said owner Mark Robeck.
It was 1971, Robeck was still in high school when his dad, Elmer, along with his brother Ron, bought the business. It had been in this spot since the turn of the century.
“They didn’t trust new people back then,” Robeck said.
But the Robecks were good at their trade, and recognizing the needs of their customers.
“We always took care of the farmers because this was farm community then,” he said.
As this farm community evolved into a bedroom community, they attracted new customers by maintaining their old practices.
“People really like the old fashioned. They want a two-inch porterhouse, we’ll have ‘er up here for them,” Robeck said.
In 1975, Elmer came up with a new product idea, and a name for it that was nothing short of marketing genius.
“We just ended up calling them ‘Happy Sticks,'” he said.
It’s a perfectly seasoned, slow-smoked handful of goodness that couldn’t be more aptly named. And they sell a lot of them. In fact, they sell about 400 pounds of Happy Sticks every three days or so.
Yet a tour through this little butcher shop really shows their diversity of products, and their attention to detail.
“People really go crazy over that, they love it,” Robeck said.
He shows off his products like other guys show their trophy cases. But there’s a lot of work that has to be done to get their meats just right.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Robeck making sausage for a while helps you understand that this would be a tough job if you didn’t have the passion for it.
“People come in grouchy, we make them smile,” he said. “When a new customer comes in, we give ’em a Happy Stick right away and then we got ’em hooked [laughs]!”
So it looks like he will be keeping with the Robeck tradition for a while.