Author Archives: blackinklaura

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Born and raised in the Sunshine State, I grew up surrounded by more livestock than people on my family’s working cattle ranch. A willingness to address a crowd and an eagerness to ask questions led to my passion for spreading the word of agriculture. A lover of words, cattle and those who produce them, I couldn't ask for a better job. A Gator grad, blessed by years of learning and Tebow football, I’m a firm believer that people should be honest, lyrics should be moving and tea should be sweet. I love music, my family, my God, and of course writing for CAB.
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Hot topics
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Doctor’s orders

As a kid my family went on two trips a year.

One to visit relatives up north (this one, not even a guarantee), the other to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention.

What may have been work for my parents was vacation for us kids. We swam, we danced, we played and we hung out with folks a lot like us.

So you can imagine my joy when former co-worker Dr. Phil Bass (now at the University of Idaho) agreed to speak at our opening general session this year. Tasked with sharing insight from his own meat science background back to the rancher, I was all ears.

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A meat scientist at the University of Idaho, Dr. Phil knows his way around the beef carcass.

Here are some takeaways for all cattlemen:

No matter the environment, cattle should improve

Environmental obstacles stand in the way of consumer demand, but well-managed herds overcome them. “We have to remember that cows don’t just walk all over the range and into a steak house,” Dr. Phil said. “Something has to happen in between.” It’s up to ranchers to improve their herds to satisfy consumer’s palettes. They’re set to make more profit in doing so.

Consistency is key

How many times have we heard those words? From the butcher, chef, restaurant patron and everyone in line before them, this message isn’t going anywhere because it matters. If the harvest process becomes inefficient, beef becomes less affordable for the end user making protein choices every day.

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Dr. Phil joined Mark and I at the CAB booth later to bring some of his illustrations to life.

Taste or else

The benefit that beef has is taste, Dr. Phil said. That’s our leg up on the competition. To harness that, we need to understand that eating, even purchasing beef, is an experience – one we use most of our senses to do. “If we as a beef community do not deliver something that tastes good, we won’t have to worry about raising cattle. We have to deliver what the consumers want.”

Targeted management

No matter their home, cattle can reach a quality endpoint if the right decisions are made and put into action. Talk to local university animal scientists, he said, to figure out how best to reach your goals. “You can put these magical creatures just about anywhere to eat grass and turn it into meat. Wow, we should be excited about that. That’s miraculous!”

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Change may not be easy, improvement will look different for each, but something can be done, Dr. Phil told cattlemen.

It can feel like an uphill battle, particularly for those who sell at weaning for a price per pound. But we’re all in this together, within an industry defined by resilience and improvement. The signals are there for the live cattle and meat side to work together, packer and rancher with the same goal.

“You have to have the balance, you have to have the pounds but then you also have to have the marbling to go along with it. The quality. The consistency,” Dr. Phil said. “That’s so the grocery-store consumer who doesn’t understand the meat business and beef community can at least trust what they’re buying.”

Doctor’s orders.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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Hot topics, On the road
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The Taste, part II

Edd and Nina Hendee were out to dinner, three kids in tow.

It was 35 years ago and Edd can still recall, “It was one of the worst meals I’ve ever put in my mouth. Not to mention the service was ghastly.”

At the time their Taste of Texas in Houston was struggling, “trying to be too many things to too many people. Too many pages of mediocrity.”

It left them broke but that dinner sparked an idea in the duo.

“I left there thinking, ‘darn it, there have to be more people like me in the world who want to take their family out and have a nice dinner.’” Nothing fancy; just good food and impeccable service. “That’s when I said, ‘gosh, that may just be our niche,” Edd says.

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A staple outside of the Houston restaurant, this tombstone uses humor to show their commitment to quality beef through CAB.

It wasn’t long after that they signed on with CAB and have since honed that focus on quality day in and day out.

“CAB changed the dynamic of this place,” Nina says. Everything and everyone had to step up their game. “We went from mediocrity to excellence in all that we did.”

The service, the sweet tea, the salad bar, all was put to the consumer test.

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Plenty said a salad bar was outdated but the Hendees listened to what their customers wanted. “Without them, we’re done,” he says. The salad bar remains.

“Our customers may not know why they love the Taste of Texas, or the details of it, but they know there’s an excellence here and that excellence creates value for them” Edd says.

It’s not just the obvious things. It’s the seemingly small things that make as much of the difference as the big stuff. After all, a competitor down the street can sell CAB.

Thirty-five years with the brand and all the teachings since, “We figured out we’ve got to specialize,” Edd says. “We can’t be everything to everybody. We’ve got to be something special to somebody.”

That’s why you’ll hear no talk of franchising. Edd and Nina made that decision years ago and they’re people who stick by their word.

“I have one rule,” Edd says. “One wife, one restaurant. Two of either of them could cause you a lot of problems.”

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Edd and Nina feed off of each other’s energy and humor. They’ve been together since the 70s and have no plans to retire.

So where does that leave Houston’s mega spot? In 2016 and 2017, The Taste grossed more than $17 million in sales.

“I tell our staff one of the biggest assets that we have, is we’re a high-volume, very busy restaurant. One of the worst challenges we have, is we’re a high-volume, very busy restaurant,” Edd says.

Every customer is critical.

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“We seat 500 with more than 200 employees, and we serve a thousand people a day,” Nina says. “With that comes a lot of chaos, but it’s so satisfying to know that people have left happy.”

A family is going to come in for that same special dinner Edd and Nina hoped for years ago. They’re going to have moved heaven and earth to get there.

That short time spent at The Taste, “It’s got to be something special, because they’re going to leave out the door with an opinion of this restaurant,” Edd says, “and if it isn’t excellent, we lose that sell going forward.”

Sounds like some cattlemen I know.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – If you’re interested in learning more about the Taste of Texas and Edd and Nina’s journey of struggle to success, look out for the October issue of the Angus Journal. Catch up on The Taste, part I here.

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Hot topics, On the road
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The Taste, part I

Have you ever met the president?

Me neither, but a trip to Houston’s Taste of Texas left me feeling like I had.

Owners Edd and Nina Hendee are less known for their political prowess and more for their hospitality, but an afternoon in their restaurant had me thinking I was in the presence of famous folk.

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We’re in the business of making memories, of taking care of customers and becoming a home place for them to return, Edd says.

It was around 2 p.m. when the Hendees positioned themselves near the entryway of their beloved Taste. As the lunch rush began I watched people gravitate toward them, linger for what seemed like a chance to share a personal story and smile from ear to ear if extended a hug.

Just before that the restaurant had been buzzing with busloads of 4th graders. They’d played dress up, followed the leader (Nina) through the kitchen’s swinging doors and enjoyed a quick lunch. It was scheduled and on the turn of a dime the tables were cleared, the salad bar exquisite, and the Hendees stood smiling.

They held their stance for the time being but were soon ushered off to their next appointment and responsibility.

All very presidential.

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Nina, a Texas history buff, has led 400,000 4th graders through the Taste over the years. She and Edd enjoy investing in the lives of young people.

But to meet Edd and Nina is to feel safe. Edd’s clothes are pressed and Nina’s hair is perfect but an interview with them allows the raw version to surface – they’re interested in the stuff that really matters – people, productivity, not wasting space.

“My father was a wise man and he had a phrase for us,” Nina tells. “He’d say, ‘You can’t ever just take up space.’ In your community, your home, whatever you do, you’ve got to make a difference. I’d love for our legacy to be that.”

It is. That and then some.

In tandem with our brand, the Hendees are celebrating 40 years of operation. But that’s just where the parallel begins. One of the first to sign on to CAB, they too had a slow start and today, their impact is felt worldwide.

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The Taste purchases portion cuts they’ll age for 40 days and offers customers the chance to individually select their steak.

The largest independent restaurant by sales volume in the state, #40 in the country, 1,000 meals come out of that kitchen each day and others are shipped across the U.S.

As far as the brand goes, no independent restaurant has sold more CAB, and “nobody comes close to us,” Edd says. For 35 years he and Nina have held true to a typed agreement and have exclusively sold what’s now the largest brand of beef – more than 6 million pounds of it – and counting.

For number’s sake, that equals about 9.5 million packer pounds or “about 95,000 CAB-certified cattle that have been consumed at our place,” Edd says.

That’s the production of nearly one packing plant for an entire year.

So why them? What makes them unique and will they franchise?

Check back tomorrow and I’ll tell ya.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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On the road
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From the beginning

My mom does this thing with movies that I’ve just never understood. She’ll scroll through the channels, find a film and invest in it – even if it’s halfway over.

“Mom! We have no idea what happened in the beginning,” I’ll say with a smile and a tinge of frustration.

In reality, it matters none. The lady works a lot and, after long days of handling cattle and keeping a family business thriving, she knows she likely doesn’t have time to enjoy a full movie anyway.

But sometimes, in real life, knowing and understanding the beginning is crucial. History educates our decisions and reveals the big picture. We move forward, stronger because of it.

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“Ask questions. You guys are making us better at what we do here,” Cactus Feeders staff said. Our chefs had plenty.

In late April, a few CAB staffers (including me) and 40 chefs gathered in the Amarillo area of Texas for CAB Chef Tour. It’s an impressive affair, one where our education team goes above and beyond to create an experience for culinary folks who serve our product in their restaurants or are considering doing so. It’s a time when the beginning is absolutely necessary.

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It takes a lot to feed 50,000 head. Technology and science determine what’s best. We got to take a look at the mill that makes three feedings a day a reality.

Our stops included 2 Bar Angus, a seedstock supplier, near Hereford, Texas, owned and operated by Steve and Laura Knoll and their family. Then it was the coveted packing plant tour before we headed to Wrangler Feedyard, near Happy, Texas.

“It was fascinating, the whole thing. The whole thing was fascinating.”

That’s how attendee George Motz described our walk through the production side of our business as we sat down for dinner the last night. He’ll take those memories back to NYC and share them in his areas of influence. Forty other chefs will do the same.

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A nice exchange.

As I sat down for lunch that second day, one attendee said, “Wow lunch yesterday seemed so long ago. We’ve done a lot between now and then.”

Indeed we had and I’d say that’s our goal. To take these 40 plus chefs and give them insight into the side of the business we know and love is an honor, but an obligation, too.

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A dust storm may have forced us indoors for Steve Knoll’s insight into the Angus seedstock business but we ventured out for a picture. The Knoll barn is one of those being painted in celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary and #brandthebarn campaign.

Once home attendee Chad Foust, Sweet Lou’s Restaurant and Bar, Ponderay, Idaho, shared, “This past week I spent a lot time thinking back to everything  we learned/experienced and just how much I did not know about Certified Angus Beef. The entire process just blows my mind on how precise every portion of the steer’s journey is and how uncompromising Certified Angus Beef standards are. I am proud to serve Certified Angus Beef at Sweet Lou’s.”

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

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Hot topics, On the ranch, On the road
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Beef chain in the backyard

“When the snow melts and the boat docks are in, CAB better be on the shelf.”

I’m in the passenger seat of a Ford pickup backed up to a large animal veterinarian’s practice. I’m in a border town of Wyoming and Idaho about to unload a horse off a trailer. I’m with Jim Benedict and it’s an adventure, because that just seems to be his life.

I met Jim about an hour beforehand at the Customer Service counter of Benedict’s Market, near Mountain View, Wyo. We had scheduled an interview to talk cattle and his retail store but his daughter’s horse had cut his leg, requiring attention, and Jim figured we could multitask.

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A family business that’s been there for generations – from the employees to the customers, they trust the Benedicts to provide safe and wholesome food to the community.

The cool thing about Jim is he’s present, no matter the chaos that lies on the outskirts. When he’s with his cattle, he’s a committed caretaker, a dedicated herdsman. When he’s in his family’s retail store, he recognizes faces and scans the aisles for improvements. When he’s at the horse vet, he studies the treatment and asks almost as many questions as me.

He’s a student, a pursuer of excellence in all things and one of the most unique ranchers I’ve met.

So back to his quote at the top…

I didn’t know what he meant about the first part – in Florida the docks are stationary (hello, sunshine!) – but I was pretty sure about the second: if it was a challenge, Jim seemed like a guy who gets things done.

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“We’re building a commercial cow database that has documentation and DNA,” Jim says. He and Bruce run the Zoetis HD-50K test on every bull on the place.

“People tell us we’re crazy,” he admits of juggling both ends of the beef business, “but we just do our own thing.”

He’s talking about him and his brother, Bruce, both third generations to run the local grocery and retail store where you can buy “a loaf of bread or livestock equipment.” More so, he’s acknowledging the fact that they own and manage hundreds of head of Angus cattle, too. Not to mention farm and have families to boot.

That aim for growth led them to CAB.

“We knew some of the more progressive stores were using CAB and making it happen, that it worked,” Jim says.

All it took was thinking about his cattle and the literature he had read about the world’s largest branded beef program.

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Benedict’s Market is known for “fresh food, exceptional service and community support.” A perfect fit for CAB.

“We went down to a food show in April, and Associated Food Stores didn’t know if they could pull it off,” he says. Supply, demand and the impending summer season implied it would be six months at least.

But the boat docks were almost in and that meant summer tourism was around the corner.

“I got home and got on the phone and said, ‘Hey, I need to pull the trigger on this. Let’s get this thing rocking and rolling.’”

Twenty-two days later, CAB was in the meat case.

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“The biggest fear we had going in was whether people would balk at the prices,” Jim says. A year later, he says it’s been the least important care to the consumer.

“We’re blending the producer side of things with the retail side of things,” Jim says. “We know what the end product is. We know what the going-in product is. It was that little spot in the middle that we needed.”

Now he’s got the whole beef chain in his backyard and a special perspective to go with it.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – Be sure to grab a copy of the Angus Journal for Jim’s full story in a few months.

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