Talk about aged beef: in a corporate era, Kingfield’s Finer Meats is a mom-and-pop-and-grandpa-and-grandson business
With the relentless encroachment of large chain stores, "Mom-and-Pop shops" are rare. But on Nov. 15, the Kingfield neighborhood’s Finer Meat Company, 3747 Nicollet Ave. S., reached a milestone: 40 years in business and three generations of meat from the Knopik family. In all, the storefront has housed a meat market since 1932.
Customers said it’s the old-fashioned meat smoking technique and dedication to personal service that’s kept the family business going for so long.
Then and now
Tim Knopik, 58, said there was already history behind the counter when his father — Aaron Knopik, who Tim calls "Grandpa Finer" — purchased the store in 1962. "It was Jerry’s Meats then," Knopik said.
The store itself had been a meat market for 30 years before his father’s purchase, so this anniversary year also marks 70 years of meat at the Nicollet location.
Knopik said when his father purchased the store, the neighborhood’s business sector looked and felt very different. "I consider it a slower, friendlier time," he said.
Tim Knopik said watching people age and watching the neighborhood change are the most interesting things about his business. Next to the meat shop, Knopik said, was a burger joint, a drug store, the Nicollet Bakery, a tailor shop, a sewing shop and, right across Nicollet Avenue, the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store.
"When we first started, it was like a little community, we all worked together," he said, "Now it’s kind of all gone."
Knopik said the meat business has also changed over the years, causing people to rely less on butcher shops. "From the mid-1980s and 1990s until now, business has dropped off considerably," he said.
Knopik said busy schedules have driven consumers to chain grocery stores and meat counters. Plus, he said a lot of people don’t cook long meals like they used to, stewing a roast for hours.
To compete, Knopik said they mark their prices consistently under the chain-store prices. "We have to do that, because in order to get here people have to make an extra stop," he said.
Knopik said he surveys the competition, and when compared to the grocery chain Rainbow Foods, which charges $3.79 per pound for their center cut pork chops, he charges $2.79. For spare ribs, Knopik said Rainbow charges $2.69 per pound, while he charges $1.99. And for a whole chicken he said they charge $1.19 per pound and he charges 99 cents.
He said he’s able to keep his prices lower because Finer is a small store with low overhead costs.
Aside from value, Knopik said the store is still known for quality, because he hickory-smokes his meat in-house — "the old-fashioned way," he said, instead of dipping the meat in flavoring.
Business strategies and all, the secret to success and longevity, Knopik said modestly, is best explained in the simplest terms. "We’re great," he said.
The regular customers agree. Many said the jovial banter, coupled with exceptional meat, is what’s kept them coming back for decades and decades of "Finer" meat.
Customer Ross Gross said he’s been shopping at the store for 30 years. "I’ve gotten everything here at one time or another," he said.
It’s a combination of their product and service, Gross said, that’s kept him a loyal customer. He said although he shops at Cub for his food staples, he gets his meat, and some unique personal touches, from Finer. "They have the best meat and the best service — plus they invite me to their parties," he said.
Gross said even his out-of-town relations make a point to come to Finer’s to stock up on choice meat they can’t get anywhere else, like Parker House Sausage.
Tim Knopik, who refers to himself as the "King of Tails" — referencing ox tail, pig tails and turkey tails sold at the store — said he carries rare meat cuts popular in Southern cooking, because that’s what their customers want. He said the store has a large African-American clientele, who generally prefer more unusual meat cuts. "We have it from the rooter to the tooter," he said holding up a pair of pig ears.
Kingfield resident and caterer Kim Christensen said specialty meat cuts are important in her business. "It’s the one place you can go where they cut your meat to order," she said, "For special clients, this is the place to come."
However, Christensen said she had been coming to the store long before moving to the neighborhood in 1987. She said she likes the smells of the place and enjoys the people.
Knopik said it’s nice to have long-time customers such as Christensen, because he has the chance to watch their families grow.
Christensen said she remembers coming to the store when pregnant with her son, who’s now 11, and how he helps carry out the meat. "You can grow up with this butcher," she said.
All in the family
Tim Knopik said that when Aaron Knopik, now deceased, purchased the store in 1962 he was only thinking five years ahead, planning to sell the business in 1967.
He said he and his father were having so much fun working together that they just decided to keep the shop. "My father put a lot of fun in carving meat," he said.
Knopik said his father, who worked at the store until he was 75, always emphasized the job security in his profession. "My father said you’ll have steady work because the last thing people do before they keel over is stop eating," he said.
Tim Knopik’s son, 30-year-old Brian Knopik, is the third generation to work at the store. Brian said the steadiness of the job is what drew him to the store 11 years ago. And although he grew up with the family business, he said he didn’t go into it right away. But after seven years as a painter, Brian Knopik said he was ready to give butchering a try.
He said that between his two sets of twins — 2-year-old sons and 12-year-old daughters — there could be a fourth generation in the family business. "My daughters are gung-ho," he said. "They want to take the meat market over, go to Hollywood and be famous."
Brian Knopik said it’s not easy working for your dad, but his father said when times get tough, they don’t have a choice but to work it out. "He can’t quit and I can’t fire him," Tim Knopik said, "If there’s a problem, my wife works here, too."