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V&M Locker opens new grocery, expanded meat shop in Leota

Six months after Leota's only grocery store was demolished, a new and brighter facility has reopened. V&M Locker completed its expansion project thanks to a Minnesota Department of Agriculture value-added grant that helped fund one-fourth of the construction.

LEOTA — Six months after its former grocery store was torn down, V&M Locker in Leota is once again fully open for business.

Owners Chad and Julie Ruiter reopened the grocery Friday afternoon, four days after the facility passed final inspection and just hours after the front counter was installed and the cash register and credit card reader connected.

For local residents, the reopening means they once again have a place to buy the staples — a jug of milk, a carton of eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread and an assortment of other items — in town. For those who visit V&M for their wide variety of meats, customers will now find the products displayed inside new freezers and coolers brightened by LED lighting. During construction of the new 48- by 88-foot building, customers had to call ahead to place orders for meat.

Though not all of the cases are filled with product, Julie Ruiter said Monday that much was accomplished during three days of training on the new equipment last week. As the new technology was learned, the crew made 1,000 pounds of beef sticks and over a thousand pounds of hot dogs, ring bologna, fresh brats, summer sausage and other items.

Also made was 80 pounds of beef jerky, as well as smoked hams, bacon and turkey to stock the cases. Newly added offerings to the meat case include boneless pork loins and baby back ribs, and the Ruiters hope to add brisket and tri-tip beef roasts in the near future.

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While the Ruiters have a new way of making some of their processed meats, rest assured, the recipes haven’t changed.

“We were so far behind on making things,” Julie said. “We still have things to make this week.”

All of the smoked meats and processed products are now made in the locker’s sausage kitchen, located in the back half of the new building.

The kitchen’s new equipment will increase efficiency and improve operations. There is a new vacuum meat stuffer to make V&M’s now-famous hot dogs at a uniform 6-ounce weight, and digitally controlled smokers to ensure meat is smoked for just the right length of time. The smokers, as well as new walk-in coolers, are large enough so that racks of meat can go from smoker to cooler with ease. The addition also features a spice room — the pride and joy of V&M Locker’s founder, Verlyn Ruiter.

The sausage kitchen was a much-needed addition to the locker, which has continued to see increased sales since its hot dogs were voted the best in Minnesota by WCCO viewers in June 2016.

The locker continues to ship hot dogs, bacon and other products to customers throughout the state and, in some cases, halfway across the country.

On a Saturday this past summer, Julie said a couple drove to Leota from Rochester just to buy some hot dogs. The man had saved a newspaper article from three years ago, intending to one day get to V&M Locker. Since the meat counter was closed for the construction project, he wasn’t able to see the vast array of products. While they bought hot dogs, they were encouraged to return when the new facility was completed.

T&R Construction of Chandler built the new facility. Despite the summer of frequent rains, construction went fairly smoothly.

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“I count the whole project a blessing,” Julie said. “Every single day, whether it was a plumber, electrician, contractor or refrigeration, someone was here every day to keep the process going.”

Now, the second phase of the building project is underway, which involves an expansion of the custom meat cutting room, located in the original portion of the locker, directly east of the new building.

With seven workers in the room on Monday and a pair of beef halves hanging from hooks, it’s easy to see why the space is needed. The addition will double the work space, and there is also space for a break room — something the locker hasn’t really had in the past.

V&M Locker processes custom orders of beef Mondays through Wednesdays and pork Wednesdays through Fridays. The locker has been so busy, it had to turn away full processing of venison this fall.

Once the phase two work is completed, the Ruiters plan to have a grand opening sometime next spring.

The Ruiters received a value-added grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which helped pay 25% of the construction costs on the new building.

As a result of the grant, the Ruiters have agreed to expand their store’s offerings of Minnesota-grown items. Among the new grocery brands is Moo2You milk, available in half- and one-gallon jugs. The milk is produced, pasteurized and packaged right on a rural Melrose dairy. Other items, including cheeses, will be added in the future. The grocery store also carries products from the Edgerton Bakery, and features grab-and-go food items including meat and cheese sandwiches and a hot dog steamer and condiment counter.

With the expansion project, the locker has added one new employee — a retail meat and sausage kitchen manager. The Ruiters anticipate creating up to two more positions once the expanded custom meat cutting room is finished.

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The locker’s primary service area is within an 80-mile radius of Leota, but it now has producers from beyond the immediate area contacting it for processing, Julie said. The Ruiters process meat for a producer from near Wessington Springs, S.D. — a three-hour drive from Leota — and several others from west central Minnesota.

The Ruiters purchased V&M Locker from Chad’s parents, Verlyn and Barb, on May 1. The locker is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It will be closed Thanksgiving Day.

112719.N.DG.VM LOCKER.jpg
Chad and Julie Ruiter, owners of V&M Locker in Leota, stand amid the new freezers, coolers and display cases inside their newly opened grocery store. The grocery portion of the business had been closed for six months for the construction project, and reopened Friday afternoon. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

Related Topics: SMALL BUSINESS
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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