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V&M Locker expansion means temporary closure of grocery store

V&M Locker in Leota will undergo an expansion project starting in early May. The existing grocery store will be demolished, and a new, larger building will be built in its place. (Tim Middagh/TheGlobe)1 / 2
Julie Ruiter stands at the checkout counter at V&M Grocery and Locker in Leota Thursday afternoon. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)2 / 2

LEOTA — Nearly three years after a Minneapolis television outlet deemed V&M Locker to have the best hot dogs in Minnesota, the natural casing weiners are still highly sought after.

The popularity of the hot dog is leading the Leota business into an expansion project.

Julie Ruiter, who appeared before the Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday night seeking approval for the expansion, said plans are to move an existing storage building further west, demolish the existing grocery store and construct a new 88- by 48-foot building to house a grocery store and sausage kitchen. The processing space, which fills the east building, will remain in operation during the construction project, and will undergo its own expansion in March or April 2020.

Ruiter said the grocery store is anticipated to close May 1, leaving the town without a local place to buy fresh produce, milk, bread and canned goods for about six months. She said it will hopefully reopen by Thanksgiving — sooner if possible.

“The locker is going to stay running,” Ruiter said. She encourages people to call ahead with their orders for hot dogs, bacon and all of the other meats the locker sells. At this time, the business is planning to have one case with jerky and meat sticks available for walk-in customers.

Any changes to those plans, as well as updates about the construction project, will be posted on the locker’s Facebook page, she added.

Ruiter said the new grocery store will be smaller in size and, as a result, there will be less variety than in the past.

“We’ll still have a full line of groceries,” she added.

The new sausage kitchen will take up space at the rear of the store. Ruiter said it will improve workflow by putting everything in one location. For years, the locker’s smokehouse has been in a back corner, where products such as hot dogs are stuffed into casings and smoked. Then, they’re wheeled to another area to cool, and yet another area for packaging.

“We’re bringing everything together and making more space for processing,” Ruiter said.

V&M Locker is also adding a second meat smoker and replacing its hydraulic stuffing machine with a vacuum stuffer. The switch will enable the business to make a batch of hot dogs in just 45 minutes instead of the three hours it takes with the hydraulic stuffer.

“Our new stuffer is so much larger and our current facility didn’t have enough space,” Ruiter said.

While at the locker convention a few years ago, Ruiter learned of a grant from the State of Minnesota to partially fund projects like this. She and her husband, Chad, applied in October and were awarded a Value-Added Grant in late November.

“The purpose of this grant is to increase the use and production of agricultural products in Minnesota, since processing local beef and pork is our main business our project was a good fit for the grant,” Ruiter said.

The locker continues to get a lot of orders for its hot dogs, with people driving down from the Twin Cities and points beyond — and picking up other products like bacon, dried beef and ring bologna during their visit. A couple of weeks ago, Ruiter said an order of hot dogs was shipped to Arizona.

During Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting, Ruiter received preliminary approval for the expansion project. It will advance to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners for consideration May 7.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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