Kentucky Ag News
University of Kentucky meat specialist Gregg Rentfrow demonstrates cutting techniques at The Chop Shop in Wolfe County. (Photo by Aimee Nielson, UK ag communications specialist)
Already the largest USDA meat processor in eastern Kentucky, The Chop Shop teams up with the Lexington Legends
By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Agricultural News
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Jonathan Whitt is a baseball fan, but he’s never been to see the Lexington Legends play.
Whitt hopes to change that this season, not just to watch the action on the field but to taste the food in the concession stand.
“I may have to go now just to try one of those hamburgers,” said Whitt, who last October opened The Chop Shop, which will supply the Appalachia Proud ground beef for those burgers.
Kentucky Proud marketing officials have also conducted taste tests of The Chop Shop’s burgers on the campuses of several colleges and universities in Kentucky in recent weeks in hopes of selling its ground beef to higher education food service providers as part of the Kentucky Proud Farm to Campus Program.
The Chop Shop is the largest U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected processor in eastern Kentucky and the newest USDA-inspected facility in the state. Its construction was funded in part with a $350,000 grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. The plant, located off the Lee City exit of the Mountain Parkway, also contains a retail shop.
Appalachia Proud is a new marketing program Agriculture Commissioner James Comer launched in February dedicated to generating economic development through agriculture in 37 eastern Kentucky counties.
“The Chop Shop is a significant player in the success of the Appalachia Proud and Kentucky Proud movement in eastern Kentucky,” said Comer. He slapped the first Appalachia Proud bumper sticker on The Chop Shop’s delivery truck, which was on hand when the program was launched in Knott County.
The Chop Shop is a unique facility with separate areas for small animals – pigs, lambs and goats – and cattle, as well as a section for processing value-added products. The unit is designed with a managed flow from unloading to the retail store. The extra-large coolers and cutting rooms push the capacity of 40 beef and 60 small animals a day.
“The Whitts spared no expense in equipping the various processing rooms with the most modern equipment available,” said Warren Beeler, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s director of agriculture policy.
In the value-added room, machines convert meat product into bologna, hot dogs, summer sausage, or the client’s special cooked recipe. The room has two smokers with the larger having a 2,000-pound capacity. Both have the capability of cooking in that fresh special flavor, and then the vacuum packaging machine locks it in.
“The missing link for many Kentucky Proud retail meat producers is this value-added step that moves product closer to the consumer while making it more convenient and easy to prepare,” Beeler said. “The value-added room turns a beef roast into cooked, sliced roast beef ready to heat and eat.”
Jonathan’s latest idea is hamburger wrapped in black packaging that keeps out the light and maintains its fresh red color.
“Our hamburger is just a great product,” said Paul Marsillett, manager of The Chop Shop. “Hamburger meat at the grocery store can come from a lot of places. It’s hard to say how many animals are in that one product. We have a unique tracking system in place so we know where it comes from.”
The Chop Shop retail store has farm-fresh meats cut daily available to the public. The price list has more than 150 cuts of meats and value-added products on display, or products can be cut to the consumer’s specifications by request.
“I would recommend the jalapeño summer sausage — it hit the spot for me!” Beeler said.
The Chop Shop’s refrigerated delivery truck can bring product to the customer’s restaurant or business. What about a half beef to stock the freezer? Having a family or business celebration and need some barbecue?
“Being USDA inspected, we have the capability of selling and shipping anywhere,” Whitt said.
The Chop Shop has several small enclosed grills on wheels for rent that come complete with a pig ready for roasting.
Unusual level of transparency
The Chop Shop gives the producer a live weight, carcass weight, and a second carcass weight as it heads to the cutting room. Beeler said that provides the customer a level of transparency that is unparalleled in the processing business.
“Jonathan Whitt is in the business for the long run,” Beeler said.
“Business is picking up and growing,” Whitt said. “It’s been a learning experience trying to educate employees and staff, and farmers and livestock producers as well. But I think we have a pretty bright future.”
Most of The Chop Shop’s meat right now comes from Whitt’s own JSW Farm in Morgan County. The business also enables producers to process their meat for their own use. He has processed pigs from Morehead State University.
“We try to use local animals, try to use everything Kentucky Proud,” Whitt said.
Whitt is a big believer in the Kentucky Proud and Appalachia Proud programs.
“They bring us a better opportunity to give the local economy a boost,” he said. “They give eastern Kentucky farmers an outlet or a marketing place for the products or the animals that they produce.”
Marsillett is proud to work for the Kentucky Proud/Appalachia Proud facility.
“We’re local neighbors feeding neighbors, keeping everything local,” he said. “Instead of beef coming in from out West, we have local people right here in Kentucky that can produce an even better product.”
The Chop Shop was the first tenant in the 100-acre Agricultural Industrial Park, located just off the Mountain Parkway at exit 57 in the Campton/Hazel Green/Lee City area. To contact The Chop Shop, call (606) 662-4121.