By Jay Reed
It was early February when Welcome Home Beef opened its doors in Starkville. Barely a month later, the country was in full-fledged pandemic mode. Restaurants were either closing or transitioning to curbside, and locals who might normally be eating out several times a week were barely leaving their homes. Thankfully, buying food was declared essential. And for food lovers who found themselves with lots of extra time while working (or not) from home, Starkville’s new “beef boutique” was there to help.
That’s not their official marketing moniker, but it fits. A boutique is defined as a small specialized business, and for the Sanders family - siblings Scott, Leslie, Will and mom Linda - that business is beef. One day, says Scott Sanders, they want to be a “meat boutique.” They’ve already added pork from the other end of University Drive at Mississippi State, and hope to expand their options even further in the coming months. But the beef is the star, with seventeen different cuts of steak, four kinds of roasts, ground beef, brisket, even tongue and cheek.
The Sanders family has been in the cattle business for a long time. More than once, David Sanders (the patriarch of the family) had considered the idea of opening a retail store to sell beef. After he passed away in early 2019, his kids took over the cattle sales business. Leslie and Will handle much of the retail side, while Scott deals with the cows. Scott is also an educator. He can get as deep in the details as you want when talking about cuts of beef, factors in raising cattle, even economics - and those are key things to know for a niche business like this. He points out two primary components that are required to have good quality beef: marbling and some age. In the midst of all that knowledge, however, it’s really all about the taste.
And that’s what it’s all about for return customers, too. One gentleman came back in the store raving about a roast, saying, “I haven’t had a roast like that since the 70s.” The Sanders will tell you their goal is not necessarily to make the beef taste “better,” but to make it taste like it did 30 years ago. How did that happen? It wasn’t a flux capacitor in a DeLorean; it was a trip to Nebraska.
Scott was there looking for new places to feed cattle and happened upon a farmer whose cows seemed different. It was July and the cattle were playful, had clarity in their eyes and just looked natural. He asked what made them so unique, and the farmer told him they didn’t allow hormones in his feed yard. In fact, most of the feed was grown within a mile of where they were fed. Scott said, “I bet your meat is just fantastic,” and the farmer said, “Let’s go to the house and get some.” And they did. Scott went back to his hotel with sirloins and burgers taken from the freezer and cooked them on a burner. Everything was delicious. He called home and said, “I found our new thing.” Back in Starkville, the family sat down and came up with a plan: buy the cattle here in the south, feed them in Nebraska, get them processed and sell the beef here.
One option would have been to supply the common retail cuts of beef: rib eyes, filets, roasts and burgers. But that’s not what they wanted to be. The real goal was to be a vertically integrated source of beef and know everyone involved in the process; a longer process than the average steak aficionado might realize. Plus, there are so many other great cuts that don’t get the same press as, say, a filet mignon. Most eaters know about New York strips, rump roasts, briskets, maybe even London broil. For many, however, the words picanha, shoulder clod, and teres major seem like a foreign language.
When it comes to favorites, Scott likes the diversity of the hanger steak: “It’s delicious, it’s tender, it’s fun to cook. You can put it on a taco, you can throw it on the grill and eat it with a baked potato, you can make beef tips out of it - there’s a lot of different things.” Leslie admitted that she was very traditional. “It used to be a filet, but now it’s a ribeye - it really is. They just have a great taste.” Mark Coblentz, Starkville’s teen celebrity chef, has travelled from coast to coast and ranks the steaks from Welcome Home Beef up there with the best: “They have a beefy flavor that I like to highlight, not hide with a marinade.”
Coblentz is also a fan of the ground beef, noting that the burgers taste like steak. That’s because they are. Scott explained that a higher than average percentage of the ground beef they sell is from those 17 cuts of steak from the whole cow, not just the usual lean trimmings. That also reduces shrinkage. “When you take our eight-ounce patties and throw them on that skillet, when they’re done, they’re still bigger than that bun you’re going to put them on.”
Kinzie Brown and her family were new to Starkville, arriving shortly before things went viral, at about the same time as Welcome Home Beef’s grand opening. Nice dinners at home were taking the place of meals out, and the grown-ups often enjoyed filet mignon. But the kids kept saying, “Can I have a bite?” The Sanders suggested the bistro filet for the kids: similar but less expensive. Little did they know that all the Browns would end up eating that cut.
Kinzie said, “The bistro filets were just as tender, just as flavorful - buttery, and so good, we love it.” Welcome Home Beef has become their one stop meat shop. Chances are good that it will become the same for many.
329 University Dr. Starkville, MS 37521