Saturday Apr 15 2006
Aged to Perfection
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein, The Press-Tribune
History of Roseville This is one in a series of articles The Press-Tribune will run in the coming year about the history of Roseville. The articles focus on the people and places in the community from the past 100 years.
Meet Sir Rose. For decades, the brown-and-white steer has stood sentry in front of the Roseville Meat Company, greeting motorists traveling along Atlantic Street and becoming quite popular with passersby. Maybe a little too popular. "He's been on many adventures," Joyce Henry said of the fiberglass icon, which has proven to be an easy target for high school pranksters in the past. "One time he ended up on the roof of Casa Roble High School," Henry said. "That's when we started to bring him in every day. He comes in at night." Henry, who co-owns the business with her husband Dave, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the butcher shop this year. And while the Atlantic Street fixture no longer processes beef - much to Sir Rose's relief - just about everything else is fair game. "We still do hogs and lambs, deer and elk, and - when in season - wild pig," Dave said. "Not many places do that anymore." Call it a holdover from an earlier time, when many area families raised their own livestock. Without widespread freezer ownership, residents needed a place not only to process their meat, but to store it. Enter Allen Newel, owner of the Main Street Placer Market. In 1946, he opened the Roseville Frozen Food Bank, giving the city's only butcher, Butler's Meat Market, its first taste of competition. The outfit paid house calls to area ranchers, hauling fresh kills back to the Atlantic Street location for processing. It also sold meat to those living in town. Phoebe Astill, curator of Roseville's Carnegie Museum, remembers growing up on her family's ranch in the early 1950s. A call to Newell would invariably follow each slaughter. "They would come and get the meat, take it back to the meat market, wrap it and put it in our locker back there," she said. "Once a week we would go to the locker. I remember they had pegs with heavy coats there and you would put it on if you didn't have one and get your meat." The company offered around 500 deep freeze lockers in three sizes, according to Ron Newell, Allen's son. Today, the shop is known for its diverse selection, with items as exotic as rattlesnake and buffalo. That's a change from Newell's time, when appetites were simpler. "People's tastes were more meat and potatoes," said Ron, who worked in the shop as a boy. "People wanted meat and potatoes and that's what we sold them. Everybody from the neighborhood would have 35 cents worth of hamburger. On the weekend, they'd come down and pick up a couple of steaks." Still, the business was known for at least one then-unusual specialty: its kielbasa, which the Newells smoked in a wooden smokehouse that continued to operate until late last year (a new, modern smokehouse has since been added). In 1959, the business was sold to Dorothy and Emmett Gabbett, who ran the business until the late 1970s. By then, supermarkets had made their entry into Roseville. Safeway was the first to arrive, with a store located at the 200 block of Vernon Street next to what was then a JC Penney. "Before, you had a meat market and you had a grocery store where you went to get your groceries," Newell said. "But the two weren't intertwined like they are nowadays." Supermarkets, which combined a full-service meat department with produce and other foodstuffs, spelled the end for many small outfits. But not the Roseville Meat Company. After being purchased by Harry and Joan McKinley, Joyce's parents, in 1977, the operation shifted emphasis from processing to retail. "They recognized that ranch processing was on the decline," said Dave, who took over operation with his wife in 1999. Popular these days are the shop's famous Maui ribs - featuring a secret family marinade - and prime rib roast. Last Christmas, "we sold 20,000 pounds of prime rib roast in 10 to 15 days. That's 12 to 13 hundred orders," Joyce said. And it's not just the shop's pre-packaged products that keep the customers coming. "We give very customized and personal service," Joyce said. "If you ask for your steak an inch and three-quarters thick, we get the rulers out and cut it an inch and three-quarters." The business continues to draw longtime Roseville residents, as well as attract new customers, such as Daniel Doty. "You won't find a better cut of meat," Doty said Wednesday, looking to pick up one of the shop's boxed frozen beef assortments. Doty said he was hooked when a friend of his served the famous Maui ribs six months ago. Now, he drives all the way to Roseville from his Foothill Farms home when it's time to stock up. And meat isn't the only thing that's kept the shop going. There's also a helpful staff, most of whom have been with the company for years. "I just like it here," said 20-year veteran meat grinder Don Coppin. "I like the small-town atmosphere, and we have a lot of good stuff." While some aspects of the business, such as a new, vacuum-based marinating system, have gone high tech, others have retained their old-time feel. Besides processing game, the store continues to rent three sizes of lockers in its cavernous freezer for around $15 a month. And while the Henrys are planning a major renovation and expansion project, they're also committed to preserving the store's traditional feel. "It's the family business thing," Joyce said. "This is where my heart's been for a long time."