Some would describe that first bite of ribeye, fresh off the grill, as a divine experience. Or nibbling on a perfectly crisp piece of bacon.
For Darrell and Angie Goering, creating those products is something of a divine calling.
The couple owns Milo Locker Meats at 223 Main St. in Milo. It all started 20 years ago when Darrell was on a much different career path: upper management with Bridgestone Firestone.
Climbing the corporate ladder had begun to require plenty of overseas travel — too much time away from Angie and their sons. Darrell opted to take early retirement, but then what?
It was at church one Sunday that he found the unexpected answer.
“Somebody said, ‘Hey, the Milo Locker is going to go up for sale. Have you ever thought about running a locker?’” Angie recounted. “He had no experience other than butchering hogs on his own family farm. He said yes.”
The Goerings spent their first month in business, April of 2000, learning the trade from the previous owners. Today they oversee 20 employees, including their sons, now 34, 21 and 18.
The locker is known for deer processing — more than 3,000 full carcasses every year — but also a full range of beef and pork products that are locally raised.
“Every piece of pork you buy here and every piece of beef you buy here comes from a local farmer,” Angie said.
Holidays often bring special items to the shelves, like smoked turkey for Thanksgiving, lamb for Easter. The “Baconator” just debuted in time for grilling season: fresh pork or beef patties bejeweled with — you guessed it — chunks of smoky bacon.
The Goerings ran the locker in its original location for the first 19 years, but the booming business needed more space. So, the couple went to work building the “big red barn,” as it’s called, a sprawling metal structure in the heart of Milo.
‘GOD KNEW, I DIDN’T’
It was in late January that the locker settled into its new digs. The same week, the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States was announced in Washington state.
A coincidence? Not from Angie’s perspective. The locker was about to be needed more than ever before, and the Goerings unwittingly had readied themselves just in time.
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Angie said. “God knew. I didn’t, my husband didn’t. But we are here serving a greater purpose.”
Business has spiked “exponentially,” she explained — about a 70-percent increase compared to before the pandemic. Early on, it seemed connected to social distancing. Customers felt reassured shopping closer to home and where it was less crowded.
In recent weeks, though, the locker’s very merchandise has become a precious commodity. Some grocery stores have reported meat shortages, even limiting purchases, as COVID-19 has swept through the work force of meat processing plants.
“People are worried they’re going to run out of meat, that the country is going to run out of meat,” Angie said.
That’s not going to happen at the Milo Locker, she added. Sourcing meat locally has never posed a bigger win-win.
For the locker, it means a steady supply; for farmers, a buyer for the livestock they’re struggling to sell otherwise. Temporary closures of meat processing plants have put markets at a standstill.
“I have been brought to tears from farmers that we know that are stuck with hogs in their lots, and they can’t do anything with them,” Angie said.
They’ve made room in the “big red barn” for a miniature grocery store with staples like milk, bread and boxes of pasta. They’ve extended their hours and are hiring more staff.
Although they discontinued curbside pickup on May 4, their three phone lines at 641-942-6231 are ringing off the hook.
The Goerings, it would seem, have found their calling, literally and figuratively. And the Milo Locker is in the business of dispensing meat with a complimentary side of comfort.
Angie recounted a recent phone conversation with an Ankeny man:
“He said, ‘My wife was shopping today, and she said there is no meat. No fresh meat in the case.’ He wanted to know if we have fresh meat, and I was able to tell him, ‘Yes, we do. And it’s bought from a local farm.’ … We do need reassurance during these times, don’t we?”