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Kurzweil's retail manager, Jessi Matthews and owner, Chris Kurzweil

Chris Kurzweil, owner, and Jessi Matthews, retail manager, stand in front of Kurzweils Country Meat shop sign.

By Joann Pipkin

The remnants of winter wane in the distance as the four-lane leads us northward. Spring fieldwork waits for another day, a gentle reminder of the blessings early season showers brings even amid the pause left on barren ground. 

Bound for the countryside in the southern shadows of the barbeque capital, we cross the Truman before the four-lane jaunt shifts to the northwest. Not far east of I-79, farm country finds solace this sunny March morning. At the end of our journey, tucked away in a metal building just west of the thoroughfare, we find perhaps one of the Show Me State’s best kept secrets. 

Kurzweil Family in front of their semi-truckHere, Missouri agriculture comes full circle as the Kurzweil family composes a meat recital of sorts, turning out a variety of selections, each one unique in the flavor concert it creates. Kurzweil’s Country Meats has come a long way from the little red barn three brothers opened beside the highway where folks from near and far would stop on their way to the lake. 

Yet, their passage to present-day has been met with its share of adversity. From the hog market crash of the mid-90s to a devastating fire to the Covid-19 pandemic, each hurdle presented itself with opportunities to grow for the future while helping customers make good meals great. 

Meager Beginnings

Brothers Jim, Tom and Dennis Kurzweil grew up helping in their family’s row crop operation south of Harrisonville. As they dreamed of expanding the family business, in 1991, the brothers, along with their wives, added hogs to the operation.

A few short years later, the value of hogs began to dwindle. In search of better prices for the stock they raised, the Kurzweils thoughts shifted to end products and operating a meat market. 

hams hanging to cureIn 1995, the Kurzweil brothers rented a tiny red barn on a corner off Highway 7 between Harrisonville and Garden City and set out to bring their meat market dream to fruition. They renovated the building adding freezer doors, a meat room, a smoker and stuffer, and a single vacuum machine. Harvested hogs were hug on the back wall before being cut up to make bacon, hams or other cuts. 

“When we started, we were bringing in 12 hogs a week, cutting them up into bacon and pork chops and selling them to whoever came through the front door,” explains Chris Kurzweil, Jim’s son who now manages the meat market and processing facility.

In its early days, fresh baked goods were even featured.

“I used to make bread and pies, too,” notes Chris’ dad, Jim. “We would sell frozen pies and fresh baked bread.”

After Chris got out of the Army and came back home, he began to experiment with sausage flavors while adding some wholesale accounts. The business moved into a bigger building in 1999 to accommodate growth. 

staff rolling out products“Before you know it, we were bursting at the seams for space,” Chris says. “We just didn’t have the room to store all the products we were making to fulfill those orders.”

Because consistent size is important, over the years the Kurzweils determined they couldn’t raise the kind of hogs that needed to be processed for their growing meat business. So, purchasing animals that could produce a predictable end-product became the norm for the operation although some of their own hogs continue to be rendered through the facility today. 

With a growing retail business and a restaurant as well, the Kurzweil’s thoughts shifted to turning their next building into a processing entity. 

From Dreams to Ashes

The best laid plans would be sidelined in 2017 when a fire leveled the Kurzweil’s facility. 

snack sticks handing on a rack“It was a great setback,” Chris explains. “I felt like I had built the business to a point where we were going to have to expand, and the fire just kind of forced that upon me.”

According to Chris, the wholesale side of their business was just starting to ramp up when the fire broke out. The family had talked already about constructing a wholesale facility in the building next to their existing one. 

“When the fire happened, it really changed our thought process and emotions,” Chris notes.

The two years that followed would be filled with challenges for the Kurzweils as they worked to construct a new building for their business while maintaining both the wholesale and retail customers they already had. 

Relationships are key, Chris says, as several colleagues offered up their facilities in order to help meet the needs of Kurzweil’s customers. 

"When the fire happened, we had a lot of major orders,” he explains. “One in particular, we were supplying about 90% of the protein for. It’s amazing to watch them go through about 20,000 pounds of meat in five days.”

computerized meat mixerAside from fulfilling customer orders, Chris says there was plenty of what he calls “forced patience” in the rebuilding process with making sure the new facility was well thought out and planned.  He waited six months for a soil study to be completed before rebuilding could even begin.

“We got to do a lot of paperwork,” Chris says. “Unfortunately, during that six-month period we designed one version of the building and then discovered it was too big.”

Transmission lines from a local power company called for the building to be scaled back. Focusing on infrastructure was key in the rebuilding phase, Chris notes.

“Spend your money on infrastructure and get used equipment,” he advises. “You can always upgrade equipment. It’s hard to upgrade infrastructure.”

A USDA inspected, value-added facility, today Kurzweil Country Meats has its sights set on the further processing of beef, pork and poultry for customers from coast to coast. 

computerized screen to mix the meat productsChris works with a company specifically focused on food safety to help ensure traceability is present in every product from start to finish. From temperature log to cooking and cooling, a computer program helps staff track data on each item produced. 

“It tells us what we need to enter for that day, and it stores it all so we’re not digging through filing cabinets of papers and trying to pull up records for USDA inspectors,” Chris explains. 

Jim is quick to credit Chris for growing the business to its present-day as the now federally inspected facility enables the operation to market its products to any state.

“While the fire was unfortunate, it has put us in a position where we have the ability to be probably 10 times bigger than we were,” Chris says. 

Embracing Life’s Challenges

In the spring of 2020, not long after the business was rebuilt, the Kurzweils faced yet another hurdle when the Covid pandemic took the country by storm.

Chris Kurzweil standing in front of meat case at Kurzweil's Country Meats“During Covid there were some pretty tough months,” Chris explains. “People weren’t out traveling or congregating. It made times challenging. We had to be creative and put out sanitizers on every table — all sorts of crazy steps during that time were the only way the restaurant was going to be acceptable.”

Then there was Covid protocol for the processing facility. Chris continues, “We had to have our masks, we had to have gloves. We just abided by the rules and kept on going. USDA passed down a lot of guidance, and you have no choice but to follow what they said.”

As Covid changed the direction of many businesses, Chris says theirs was no different. Pre-Covid, much of the Kurzweil’s business centered on making snack sticks, brats and hotdogs. During the pandemic, though, adjustments were made and much of the work was done in breaking down fresh meat into specific cuts for further processing.

snack sticks is one of the products made at Kurzweils Country Meats

“They found it easier to buy products that were already made so that all they had to do was plate it and heat it,” he notes.

Products like Kurzweils’ boneless beef short ribs, cooked chicken breasts, whole smoked chickens, rope sausage, ribs and other fully cooked products became what Chris calls their “bread and butter” during the pandemic.

It was also during this time that Chris was able to convince Jessi Matthews to join the operation as retail manager. Already familiar with Kurzweil’s products, Matthews became acquainted with Chris while employed in Kansas City. Working out of the restaurant and retail store front in Harrisonville, under Chris’ guidance, Jessi develops new products that will be produced and then marketed through the store front. 

Building Relationships

From burnt ends to brisket, hams, smoked turkeys and every flavor of brat and snack stick in between, the Kurzweils pride themselves on producing great-tasting products. 

staff making snack sticksAnd flavor development is what Chris enjoys most about the business.

Chris jokes when he says his main role in the business is to keep the cats herded. While his main job might be managing the moving parts of the operation – from people to equipment – he finds true joy in the company’s flavor room. 

“One of my favorite parts is the recipe development,” Chris says. “That’s where I find my creative outlet.”

Though admittedly not a marketing expert, Chris is all about building relationships and in making sure quality products go out the door. And once a customer tastes the product, he relies on word of mouth to help tell their story.

"Not only do you have to make sure the product going out is of top quality, but you also want to make sure that your customers are getting their needs met,” Chris explains.

Kurzweils meat productsThat’s true whether the person in the retail store is spending $5 or a large restaurant or casino is spending $10,000, he says. 

Being active in several civic organizations has helped the businessman build key connections. Those networking opportunities have helped secure opportunities at restaurants, hotels and casinos in the Kansas City metro area. Kurzweils Country Meats also works with FFA chapters in fundraising projects. 

From securing new customers to building a valued team, Chris has found success in the value-added business by simply enjoying what he does, by working hard and by cultivating relationships. 

“I have a great team and they jump in and take care of a lot that I don’t even see on a daily basis,” Chris says. 

In addition to Matthews, Zach Larsen oversees the plant operations while Wyatt Crusha manages the raw processing side of the business.

A Full Circle Farm

Kurzweil family talking with FCS Financial loan officer, Jay SlonikerWith Chris’ vision of growth for the business, Jim stepped back after 18 years of managing the meat market to work full-time on the family farm with Tom and Dennis. The brothers are joined there by the next generation which includes Dennis’ son Chance and Tom’s son Phillip, as well as Tom’s daughter Lori who manages the farm office. 

With 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat as well as cover crops plus a 500-head commercial cow-calf herd, a 3,000-sow farrowing operation and an irrigation business, the Kurzweil’s work is multi-faceted. An outside management group oversees the hog operation which helps free the Kurzweils to focus on other areas of the business. 

“All the corn we raise is fed to the hogs,” Tom says. “We go through about 110,000 bushels of corn a year. We try to plant about a thousand acres so we can hit that margin."

Meal in Kurzweils restaurantDiversity brings “farm to table” to life as the operation completes the picture of a full circle farm in that what is grown is fed to animals on the farm which in turn are processed into value-added food items for consumers. 

A Growing Partnership

Chris Kurzweil isn’t afraid of failure, nor an obstacle put in his path.  

“My definition of fail means first attempt in learning,” says the entrepreneur. “What we set up to do when we very first started with the new operation wasn’t what we got to do coming out of the gate, but we found a way.”

And having a partner that believed in his goals was key to making dreams come true. 

“FCS Financial has been great at helping us achieve our goals and in making our dreams come true,” Chris says. 

From real estate to operating to equipment loans and revolving lines of credit, working with FCS Financial is key to Kurzweils track record of pressing on and overcoming adversity. 

According to FCS Financial’s Jay Sloniker, “When they do something, they do it right. It’s never about glory or can we get rich doing this. It’s got to work financially. It’s always about doing it right, and that makes a difference.”

For Chris Kurzweil, having a plan and focusing on the right way to operate his business has been key to not only managing growth but also to clearing the hurdles placed in his path along the way. 

As he concludes, “Flexibility, adapt and overcome.”

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