A group of locals with ties to agriculture in McHenry County last week proposed to repurpose a Hebron building on Church Street into a small-scale beef and pork processing facility, and they plan to pair the business with a new retail store.
The proposal, which was made to the Village Board, remains preliminary, but Board President Kimmy Martinez said she was excited by it and officials plan on discussing the process to move it forward at a meeting later this month.
The group behind the idea wants to name the business “Hebron Quality Meats” and provide custom processing of pork and beef as the majority of its business, group members said. They have yet to finalize a purchase of the building at 10201 Church St. and still are open to financing offers.
“We raise animals and we want to sell them, but we can’t find anybody to butcher them these days. That really spurred the interest in this,” said Steve Hoffmann, who works with a local agriculture retail company and is a part of the group making the pitch.
While the lack of options for small-scale livestock producers in the area was a motivator for the proposal, the group also saw an opportunity because of COVID-19 and outbreaks at large meat processing facilities across the country earlier during the pandemic.
“When COVID hit, there was some major meat processing companies shut down for a while. I think it got people thinking about where does their meat come from. We were thinking about this at the same time as COVID hit. We want to be able to control our animals, if we have some that need to be processed. We can cut them the way we want them,” Hoffman said.
The business also would provide wholesale processing of meat to the food industry, for establishments that could range from high-end restaurants to local pubs, according to a letter to the Village Board, as well as retail sales of locally raised meat, including ordinary cuts as well as pasture-raised beef and pork free of antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified food diets.
In addition to Hoffmann, the group consists of Chris Dahm, a farmer and businessman in the Woodstock area; Chris McKee Jr., a farmer and livestock producer in the Woodstock area; and Steve Peterson, a lifelong resident of Hebron who farms and raises livestock, according to the letter to the board.
The exact location of the the retail outlet associated with the meat processing facility still is undetermined. Group members are discussing whether it will be on-site at the processing facility or in downtown Hebron in a vacant retail space beside Ace’s Gaming that was formerly occupied by a Subway restaurant. Peterson owns the downtown space, group members said.
The processing facility would be outfitted with a series of modular units, with each unit serving as the setting for separate steps in the beef and pork production process, Dahm said. The facility could handle up to 75 heads of beef a week, according to the letter to the village.
“They’re built to be sterilized and clean. It’s really a neat system,” he said of the units.
Village officials are speaking with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about getting the proper permits for the meat processing facility to ensure Hebron's water quality is protected, Martinez said. It has been more than 25 years since another meatpacking plant, Kenosha Beef, was accused of damaging the village's sewer system, according to interviews and a 1996 Chicago Tribune story.
Dahm said Hebron Quality Meats will be much different than Kenosha Beef. The modular units should help the proposed business use less water than traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, according to the letter to the village.
The new Hebron business is a year from opening “if everything goes well,” Hoffmann said, and it could employ between four and six people.
“They’re mostly local people behind this, which is wonderful. When Steve Hoffman first contacted me, I was so excited, bringing another business into the village, and then he mentioned the retail sales, too, which I think is wonderful,” Martinez said.