Growing up in southern Utah, Carl Kimmerle always wanted to be in agriculture. Opportunity came knocking a few years ago, when his wife’s family set out to sell her great grandfather’s farm near the tiny northwestern South Dakota town of Lemmon.
The couple penciled out a way to buy in, but there was a catch. Raising livestock for the commodity market wasn’t going to pay the bills. Kimmerle looked into selling direct, but the meat processors he called were booked out for three or four months.
When life gives you lemons, the saying goes, you make lemonade. Kimmerle took the truism to heart, turning lemons into the LemmonMade Butcher Shop.
The newly built shop on the edge of town across from the Lemmon Livestock sale barn, has been offering custom meat processing for nearly a year now. This fall, the shop opened a stylish new retail space where shoppers can pick cuts of meat and creative sausage blends. Retail now makes up about half of the business at LemmonMade.
Kimmerle has been busy from the get-go. Custom beef processing makes up most of his work.
Customers comes from a three-state area – some all the way from Willison, North Dakota, some as far south as Union Center, South Dakota, and some from eastern Montana as well.
“We pull from a pretty big area,” Kimmerle said.
Before moving to South Dakota, Kimmerle, 32, managed a small airport and did side work ranching and trapping – including contracting with the state of Utah for predator control – all while taking business courses online.
He wasn’t totally green at meat processing. He always butchered his own wild game – the deer and elk he hunted. His dad had a few cows, and they would process a few a year.
“I was too cheap or poor to pay someone to process my own stuff,” Kimmerle said.
But when he decided to open his own shop, he took on some formal training. He worked for free under a butcher in Colorado for a month or two. Influence from the Hispanic population had him focus on cuts like flank steaks, whereas sausage and cured meats are more popular in the Midwest. He worked for a time in North Dakota to learn about the local market then took a two-day course in Kansas City to learn meat processing and curing.
His top sellers are jerky, country style sausage and smoke brats. One creation – a loaded breakfast sausage – is particularly popular. It’s made of sausage, bacon, hash browns and eggs smoked in a casing.
Kimmerle likes being able to be creative and add value to an agricultural product.
“Taking a commodity and turning it into our signature item – our jerky or snack sticks … it’s fun,” he said.
He makes everything from scratch, and his creations are getting noticed. In April, LemmonMade’s country style sausage won grand champion at the Dakota Meat Processors Association competition held at the South Dakota State University meat lab in Brookings.
“We’re striving to be one of the best in the area,” he said.
The Lemmon community has been welcoming to the family of newcomers, Kimmerle said. Though his wife, Kylee, had family connections in Perkins County, she grew up in Cortez in western, Colorado. The two met when she was living his sister. Now they’ve been married seven years and have three kids: Charlotte, 5, Ladd, 3, and Cora Jean, 7 months.
It was South Dakota’s business-friendly policies that helped them make the 1,000-mile move. Elsewhere, Kimmerle suspects he would have been bogged down by years-worth of paperwork.
“Because South Dakota is still a free place, we were willing to move up here,” he said. “South Dakota is still a place where the American dream can live.”
Opening a butcher shop is capital-intensive, so Kimmerle worked with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Value Added Finance Authority to secure a loan.
So far, he’s happy with his new career as a butcher.
“It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding” he said.
Part of the reward is being able to offer a service that’s so needed, giving local livestock producers the option to sell their meat directly to the customer. Interacting with his own customers at the retail shop and hearing complements on his bacon and sausage is rewarding, too. He has dreams of someday opening a second retail outlet in Rapid City.
As for farming, that dream still lingers, too. Kimmerle maintains a few hundred acres of pasture and hayground, but he had to sell all of his pigs and sheep when he started working 80 hours a week building the butcher shop.
His energetic 3-year-old boy loves to be outside and loves to farm.
“It’s good to have the wide open space,” Kimmerle said. “More than anything, we just felt like this is where God wanted us to be.”