Schaefer’s Market gets $75,000 in MNDA grant funds

Schaefer’s Market, a longstanding business on Sauk Centre’s Sinclair Lewis Avenue, recently got a financial boost as they upgrade their equipment and expand their facilities.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture announced April 28 that they had awarded $709,235 in meat, poultry, egg and milk processing grants to 15 Minnesotan recipients, using funds from the department’s Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation program. The intent of the grant program is to increase sales of Minnesota-raised livestock products by investing in equipment and other physical improvements that support processing, capacity and market diversification and access.

An allocation of $75,000, the second largest of the grants in this round of distribution, was issued to Schaefer’s Market. The money will help them acquire equipment to increase their sausage production, and some of it is already in place.

“This business was here since the 40s, and it’s been a staple in Sauk Centre,” said Chris Lawinger, owner of Schaefer’s Market. “People like what they have here, and I’m not going to be here forever, so these kinds of updates and things help ensure this business will be here a long time.”

An inspector from the MNDA was the one who informed Lawinger of the grant program and helped him get connected to it; Lawinger applied for the grant during the 2021 application period. Grantees had to be able to provide at least 50% of the total project cost for the first $25,000 and then at least 75% of the total cost beyond that point.

One of the newest pieces of equipment in Schaefer’s Market, a vacuum sausage stuffer, has allowed the business to cut back on waste and save manpower. Unlike their old sausage stuffer, the new version prevents air pockets from forming in the sausage; the machine will also twist sausage links on its own, so employees do not have to do it by hand. That has freed up people for butchering beef.

The grant money also helps pay for the new smokehouse in Schaefer’s Market, installed in mid-2019 with the help of a different $30,000 MNDA grant. One of the biggest advantages of the new smokehouse is that it has more than doubled the market’s smoked meat production; while the previous smokehouse, a 70-year-old gravity-fed model, could only do two smokings a day of about 300 pounds of meat apiece, the new model can do three or four smokings a day of about 500 pounds of meat apiece.

Even though the new smokehouse smokes more meat, it saves on space. The market’s previous smokehouse had been built into the building itself and had to be taken out in pieces; the newer smokehouse fits comfortably in the space the old one left behind with room to spare, and aside from its pipes, it does not extend all the way up to the ceiling.

The new smokehouse is also electronically controlled, allowing its operator to program its cooking time, drying time, temperature, humidity and more.

“It also keeps records for what we’re doing,” Lawinger said. “The government likes it a lot because it’s a safer, more efficient way of doing cooking.”

Some of the grant funds also went toward the Schaefer’s Market facility being built in Sauk Centre’s west industrial park, a building that will help the market grow beyond its current space.

“We’re kind of maxed out in this facility here,” Lawinger said. “Hopefully, we can expand up there, but we’ve got to prove it first and then make sure we can make it work.”

Aside from the grant money, business at Schaefer’s Market has been going well and supporting their expansive endeavors. About a decade ago, the market was slaughtering about five head of cattle a week, and today, that number has almost doubled.

“Demand is good, and we’re booked out further,” Lawinger said. “During COVID, we were booked out maybe a year, but now we’re booked out about four or five months, which is good. It makes it easier to plan and make business decisions based on that.”

Lawinger’s ultimate aim for all of these upgrades and expansions is to make sure Schaefer’s Market can survive long-term.

“It’s going to take some investment and those grants, and that investment is going to help us make sure that happens,” Lawinger said. “Our biggest goal is to make sure this is here 20, 30, 40 years from now – or longer.”