GREENWICH, NY – They said it wouldn’t work, their new meat business was too far away – 5 miles from the nearest village with no other building in sight.
But on January 15, 1973, long lines formed on either side of County Road 74, and people walked through wooden planks on the muddy driveway to reach the front door of Nessle Brothers Meats.
The timing, while fortuitous, couldn’t have been better as a national meat crisis caused a supply shortage.
“On a Saturday you couldn’t believe it,” said 71-year-old Dick Nessle. “It was crazy. We were dealing with four or five packing plants. We never had a lot of people, but we had a pretty good supply. We did fantastic and paid for the place in two years.
Half a century later, many of the adult children and grandchildren of those original customers go out of their way for the high-quality products found only in rural Washington County at Nessle Brothers.
“We dealt with different families for three or four generations. We have people coming in and saying, “I remember coming here when I was this big,” Nessle said, holding his hand up to waist height. “They are 50 now.”
“We have gained so many friends,” he said. “I think it would take a long way to find someone who would taunt us. If something goes wrong, we tell them to report it and we’ll replace it. This happens very rarely.
Bob Nessle, 72, sums up the family’s success in a few words.
“Treat people right, price right,” he said. “Just be honest with people. Good, bad or indifferent, you have to be honest with them.
“We could make a lot more money if we set the price like the other stores,” Dick added. “But we rely on volume. We try to buy the best possible products.
The Nessles buy beef, pork and chicken from a handful of processors. The beef comes in large chunks, which are processed into a variety of cuts for steaks, roasts and burgers.
“A supermarket comes pre-packaged,” Dick said. “If you asked a butcher in a supermarket to break down a quarter of beef, he wouldn’t know where to start.”
A family business
Today, approximately 75% of Nessle Brothers’ business is retail. But for many years much of their work was for the farmers of the region, slaughtering and processing the cows and pigs they brought in and then brought home for family consumption.
Now, the Nessles no longer do on-site processing, just on-farm processing of the sides and wedges that local customers bring them. In a concession at the age, they closed the kill floor five years ago.
“This stuff doesn’t kick us,” Dick said. “It’s easier for us. It’s not that dangerous. We just hung it, aged it and chilled it.
The brothers grew up working on their grandfather’s farm, went to the same college and, while studying dairy farming, took an elective course in meat cutting, which sparked their interest in the craft.
An old man who was in the business takes them under his wing, teaches them the ropes and, a few years later, sells them his equipment for $800, preparing them to go it alone. The Nessles’ grandfather gave them a small plot to build on.
“We borrowed $27,000, which was a lot of money 50 years ago,” Dick said. “We weren’t married yet, so we took just enough to survive. As the equipment wore out, we replaced it piece by piece. Our grandfather told us, “Pay it, then move on. Don’t invest so much that you suffer.
They have never wavered from this sound advice, which has kept them out of debt while pursuing slow and steady growth.
In 1978 they added a processing room for nearly $30,000 and two years later spent $40,000 on a 25-by-30-foot walk-in freezer. The company had five full-time and two part-time employees in the 1980s and 1990s and made deliveries to Albany, Troy and Schenectady.
Many family members contributed to the company’s success. Now Dick and Bob run it alone with the help of their sister, Elaine Nessle.
Beyond traditional meat
In addition to meats, coolers and retail store shelves are stocked with dairy products from nearby Battenkill Valley Creamery. They also sell other products such as maple syrup and horseradish from local farms.
Good friends Colleen Marshall and Mary MacCollum make regular trips from nearby Saratoga County to shop at Nessle Brothers.
“It’s quality,” Marshall said. “They take care of their customers.”
MacCollum, an award-winning dog breeder, still buys some of the store’s all-beef pet food, which consists of coarsely chopped, protein-rich burger with a little fat for energy, and bone meal. .
“Years ago, a veterinarian from North Bennington, Vermont recommended that I come here because they made homemade pet food,” she said. “They would grind the beef and add whatever it suggested. My breeding program has produced 24 champion Rottweilers and Boston terriers.
Of course, she also brings home breakfast meats like bacon and sausage.
December is one of the busiest times of the year at Nessle Brothers as people stock up on meat for the holidays. This month of January will be special, as they celebrate the store’s golden anniversary.
“People wanted to buy it, but we said, ‘We’ve come this far. We want to do 50 years. We don’t want to quit before that,” Dick said. “We will continue as long as our health is maintained. We have so many friends. That’s why it will be so bittersweet the day we decide to quit. They don’t want us to retire. We neither.