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Published: 4/30/2001

Belleville keeps up family beef

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - What's different about Belleville Market, a small meat shop that is one of downtown Bowling Green's oldest businesses, is common only among the nation's largest food processing companies.

Brothers Mike and Jamie Belleville raise grain, feed it to their cattle, slaughter the livestock, process the meat, and sell it - all in their own facilities.

“It's pretty much an in-house deal,” Jamie Belleville said.

The Ohio Association of Meat Processors knows of only a few such area businesses, compared to many decades ago. In more recent years, some of the largest food companies have integrated raising crops and livestock and processing and marketing the products into one group.

But most local meat markets can buy boxed beef for less than they can raise and slaughter cattle themselves.

There are, however, advantages for shops that feature beef they have raised and slaughtered, said Michael Winner, an owner of Robert F. Winner & Sons, Inc., in west central Ohio - one of the state's few businesses that is comparable to Belleville's.

“Buying beef from the West, you don't know what you're going to get,” said Mr. Winner, whose family operates two meat markets, two slaughter houses, and a farm. Some meat from the big plants isn't high quality, but stores are charged as if it were, he added.

The niche for businesses such as Belleville's, however, comes from customers who want to buy locally raised beef, demand specially cut items that aren't always available in supermarkets, and feel they can taste a difference between MidWestern grain-fed beef and Western grass-fed beef.

The Belleville market, originally owned by Mike and Jamie's grandfather, Archie Belleville, opened in 1912 on Bowling Green's North Main Street. A picture from the era shows a panorama of chicken, geese, veal, pork, and beef, most of it hanging in the open.

Archie Belleville died young and his sons Ivan and Russell took over in the early 1930s. The market, which has been at 239 South Main St. for about 50 years in a building the family constructed, has moved around in downtown Bowling Green. Mike and Jamie became owners and operating partners in 1974 upon the death of their father, Ivan, and both of them have children who work in the business. The family started raising beef about 40 years ago, starting with about 10 head of cattle. Now, they usually have about 100 animals on the farm just west of Bowling Green.

Most of the calves are purchased from southern Ohio when they weigh 600 to 700 pounds and are grain-fed until they reach 1,100 to 1,300 pounds. About two years ago, the brothers purchased a slaughter plant - the only one of its type still operating in Wood County - just north of North Baltimore on Insley Road.

They kill about 20 head of cattle, 10 to 12 hogs, and a few lambs a week. They process hams, beef jerky, hot dogs, bologna, and German beef sticks and operate a small store there that accounts for about 25 percent of their retail sales. The rest of their retail business is from their main Bowling Green store.

The business is built on retail, which accounts for 70 percent of sales. Its wholesale customers tend to be restaurants and other meat markets, including some that Belleville's retail stores compete against. Large grocery stores, however, are the biggest competition for Belleville's.

Beef has made a comeback in recent years after reports in the 1980s that questioned the role of red meat in healthy diets. “People have, so to speak, gotten tired of chicken,” Jamie Belleville said.

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