CLEAR LAKE It was 1994, and the traffic of cabin-goers between Interstate Highway 94 and U.S. Highway 10 were being greeted with a treat.
McDonald’s Meats was handing out free samples of beef jerky.
“Us kids would just go up to car windows and hand out packages with a business card on it,” said Travis McDonald, who is now a co-owner of McDonald’s Meats. “That was our marketing technique.”
McDonald’s Meats was transitioning at the time from a grocery store to a full butcher shop. Jerky quickly became its specialty.
Now the establishment now has 37 employees, 24 types of jerky and is celebrating its 100th anniversary of McDonald family ownership.
For the fishing opener May 10, the Minnesota Beef Council will hand out free samples. They also have different monthly specials to help commemorate the anniversary.
“It’s special — there’s a small percentage of businesses who get to a fourth generation of family ownership,” said Jennifer Dierkes, Travis’ sister, who serves as general manager. “It’s exciting. It’s been a growing business.”
John McDonald, Travis and Jennifer’s great-grandfather, bought the business in 1914. He sold primarily dry goods, traded furs and, in pre-refrigerator technology, harvested ice out of local lakes.
John’s son Richard McDonald took over in 1954. The business transitioned into a grocery store that featured a couple of types of sausage.
Richard’s son Dave McDonald took over in 1994. Because of tough competition with large supermarkets, the business transitioned into a butcher shop.
Dave began experimenting with jerky, which quickly emerged as the store’s specialty.
“To survive down the road, we needed a niche,” Travis said.
Travis and Jennifer took over the business in 2009. They’ve added new products and new equipment.
“It is a family-oriented business and you feel part of it here,” said Bill Speak, a butcher who has worked at McDonald’s Meats for 13 years. “I’ve worked many other places, grocery stores, big operations, but this place is special. It is a great place to work.”
The cabin traffic still provides a big chunk of their business.
Travis said he sees a lot of the same commuters from the Twin Cities weekly in the warmer months. They also get a lot of first-time customers.
“With all the traffic coming by here, we’ve got a gold mine,” Travis said.
And McDonald’s Meats still offers free samples of jerky, although now you have to go inside the store to try one of the six samples offered daily.
“We are working on bringing the business to the next phase,” Travis said. “I’m still amazed to be part of this tradition. When you put it in perspective, there’s not many businesses that have been around 100 years owned by the same family at the same location.”
Follow Jake Laxen on Twitter @jacoblaxen.