Here's the beef
By JENNIFER CARTER Staff Writer
Steve Andal stands at the front counter of Andal's Custom Meats.
Andal's father, Ivan, started the business 50 years ago.
Photos by Frank Varga / Skagit Valley Herald
Andal family aims to expand retail sales
Andal's Custom Meats used to be out in the country. These days, it's
only about a mile outside of town.
Steve Andal's custom butchering business still sits on the same site
where his father started it 50 years ago, on Hickox Road, near the
southern edge of Mount Vernon.
"The city came to us," Andal said.
Now Andal hopes to draw city-dwellers to the business to buy steaks,
chicken, jerky and specialty smoked meats from a glass-front
refrigerator case in the crowded front office.
It's been half a century since Ivan Andal, a meat manager at Thrifty
Foods, started doing custom butchering for hunters and farmers in
his garage. It was a hobby at first, but by 1965 Andal was tired of
working for retail stores. He decided to work for himself, doing
custom butchering full-time.
With a truck equipped as a mobile slaughterhouse, Andal provided
"field-to-freezer" service for local farmers. He would slaughter
livestock in the owners' fields and take them back to Andal Custom
Meats. There he would age the meat to make it more tender, cut it to
the specifications of each owner and freeze it.
Livestock owners still pull into the business's long driveway to
pick up tidy packages of frozen meat wrapped in white paper. Steve
Andal, 55, joined his father in the business after he graduated from
high school in 1968. When Ivan Andal died of lung cancer in 1977,
his son took over.
Bigger cut for retail sales
Custom slaughtering for small farms still makes up around 80 percent
of the business, but Steve Andal said he hopes that will change. As
the number of small farms declines and the city's population
increases, Andal hopes retail sales will become a larger part of his
"I think that's where the future's going to be," he said.
The custom slaughter business hasn't been bad, either. Andal said
he's been knocking down walls ever since he took over to make room
for an expanding business. Andal still provides field-to-freezer
service out of the latest incarnation of the Andal's Custom Meats
mobile slaughterhouse, a truck he customized in 1980. Most of his
customers are in Skagit and Island Counties, but he'll go farther
afield if the customers are there.
Darla Sullivan (left) bones beef for hamburger at Andal's Custom
Meats while Fred Andal uses a band saw to make choice cuts and
Cathy Andal wraps meat.
That won't change, Andal said, even if the retail business picks up.
"We'll always do the custom," he said. "That's how we started."
The original building was large enough to process three head of
cattle at a time, but the current one has room for 85 to 90.
Carcasses hang in one of three walk-in coolers for about two weeks
after slaughter. The aging breaks down the muscle, giving the meat
"In the fall, we're just wall-to-wall here," Andal said.
Andal's Custom Meats remains a small, family operation. Andal's
cousin, Fred Andal, runs the retail end of the business. He's worked
with Steve Andal for 28 years. Steve's wife, Kay, does the books and
Fred's wife, Cathy, wraps meat and helps customers. The Andals
usually hire about four people during the fall, when demand for
custom slaughter services peaks.
The custom business falls off by Christmas, and that's when Andal
relies on the year-round nature of retail sales. He launched the
retail side of the business over a decade ago.
A 400-square-foot walk-in freezer just off the driveway holds crates
and shelves of neatly wrapped and labeled packages. In the fall,
Andal said, the freezer is so full there are only narrow paths to
walk between the crates of packages.
He uses labels to keep different customers' meat segregated from
start to finish. Each carcass aging in the coolers and each white
paper-wrapped package in the freezer is marked with the owner's name
or for retail sale.
Andal said the majority of his customers are hobby farmers, who
raise small numbers of animals and like to know they are getting
meat from the animal they raised. He said he prides himself on
always returning meat to its proper owner.
No antibiotics or hormones
U.S. Department of Agriculture rules allow custom meat cutters to
butcher and return uninspected meat only to the animals' owners.
They may also sell custom cuts of USDA-inspected meat.
For retail sales, Andal buys certified Angus beef, pork and chicken
from a Lynnwood supplier. The animals are raised without antibiotics
or added hormones in Eastern Washington, and slaughtered at
federally inspected packing houses there.
Andal said independent meat cutters have found a niche market as
consumers seek meat that is fresh, high in quality and raised
without growth hormones and antibiotics.
"People trust the small operator," he said. "We've been here
Andal said concerns about food safety at large packing plants also
push customers toward independent butchers. In 1993, after hundreds
of people in the Northwest got sick from E. coli contaminated
hamburgers at Jack in the Box restaurants, Andal's business boomed.
"I sold all the hamburger I had in a day and a half," he said.
Andal said his retail prices are usually competitive with those of
larger supermarkets and discount stores. A sign at his store last
week advertised New York steaks for $7.99 per pound.
He said meat the larger stores occasionally offer at deep discounts
to draw customers can't compare to his in flavor and quality. "You
get what you pay for in the meat business," he said.