– By Ben Schooley
Barret and Claire Klein, owners of Klein’s Smokehaus in Boerne, enjoy the fact that their business is pretty much the “must-have” BBQ destination when coming through Boerne. While they also run an extremely busy deer processing business at the same location, their dedication to their customers and innovative products have built them a loyal following. And they are doing all of this while remaining true to the business’ early roots in Boerne.
Klein’s Smokehaus was born in 2006, but the location has been a meat market and grocery store going back to 1950, and one of the original family owners still works at the location. Originally a grocery store, the Waldeck family served Boerne from behind the counter of a very humble grocery store in the early days. Gavin Waldeck and his sister Donna went to school across the street and would come each day after school to put in their required hours in the family business. As time went on and Boerne grew, larger grocers moved to town, so the family transformed the business to focus on just their prime meats and sausages, and Farmer’s Meat Market was born in 1976.
For the next 30 years, Farmer’s Meat Market was a Boerne staple for fine cuts of meat, and the family worked diligently at not only providing the highest levels of service, but to build the relationships with their customers that had existed since the ‘50s.
In 2006, the Kleins were actively looking for their own location to open their own business, and after a few meetings, Farmer’s Meat Market became Klein’s Smokehaus.
Barret, who has an Animal & Meat Sciences degree, as well as a Master’s in Meat Science, is serious about this business. His wife Claire is just as devoted to the industry, and it shows in the duo’s passion and dedication.
Barret begins, “The longevity of this business is what I liked. I wanted a well established company to putchase, and I wanted something that had a history and background. The location is perfect in Boerne and being 100% German, the dry sausage we do is very similar to what I grew up with in Fredericksburg, and I loved the idea of essentially coming home.” Upon taking the steering wheel, the Kleins considered a few changes and quickly adapted. “We expanded the BBQ and the deer processing areas quickly. I initially wanted to shut down the BBQ side of the business, but I saw how well it was made and that it was such a big part of the business, and it’s 80% of our business in the front area. We tried to automate things in the deer processing area and improve our processes to make it more modern and efficient.”
Claire is heavily involved in the business as well. She adds, “I think you want to meet the customer’s needs every single day, and that’s what gets me going every time I walk in here. The goal here is to make it right. I’m proud of what we have to offer and we make it right. That’s what they’re paying for. Whether it’s a sandwich or a large processing order, whether you’re teaching or filling gas, you’re wanting a service and we are here to provide our service as well as we can. It’s our reputation on the line.”
Upon purchase, the Kleins were processing approximately 1200 deer per season. They are now eclipsing 4000 annually. Valerie Mont, who handles marketing and operations for the team, adds, “ I think we have some of the most innovative processing around – they’re great quality, and people have more options than other places. The quality of our service is top notch, and we have up to date packaging that you don’t find in most places like ours.”
Barret adds that his passion for the meat sciences and the innovative opportunities in front of him is what keeps him motivated. “I just love coming up with new ideas. For example, in the last 10 years, dried Italian salamis are a hot thing, and so we’ve been working hard on that. Using bacterial fermentation, the very old school type techniques, and we’re coming up with new products. I love that. I love all things related to meat where we can be innovative and make us more efficient, and make us more technologically advanced…but in an old fashioned way.”
Speaking of old fashioned, Gavin Waldeck (son of the original owner) is still a daily employee and a familiar face for many. Valerie adds, “We still have some older customers that come in and only want Gavin to serve them.” Barret jumps in, “He’s a very big piece of our business as far as maintaining the longevity and the history. They relate to him being here and he’s a fixture.” Valerie ends, “Even up in the front, they might know that they can get the same cuts at HEB, but they love to come here and talk to us personally and let us provide that personal service and Gavin and the whole staff is very important to us and the customers as well.”
With their appreciation for the past, the Kleins are ever-pushing forward. Barret explains, “We’re adding 900 new square feet of retail space soon. We’re also planning on smoked bacon and trying to get it carried in other retailers. That’s a big step because it’s a large undertaking. Right now we’re seasonal with the deer, and are trying to find some more consistency so that we can keep staff in line all year round.” Claire adds, “We process year round, but the numbers significantly drop off after January, and we’d like to increase production so we can keep them all on staff year round.”
With their eyes on expansion into retail stores (like HEB) carrying their products, the team is focused. Valerie explains that while their products are the ultimate test, the connection with a local store is important to customers. “As far as our retail offering goes, we’re offering good quality products with good service and our presentation is great. I think people are shying away from your chain stores, and we’re trying to make it more of a one-stop shop where people can have that boutique experience with the personal connection that I think people really value now.”
In what little down-time the team gets, Barret busies himself with the Ag programs locally such as 4H and FFA. Claire comments that while their hours are intense, it has just made them all appreciate their family time that they are afforded, and they guard it closely. Valerie, an avid hunter and mother of 2, laughs that it’s simply perfect that she can go hunting and then bring her trophy to Klein’s for world class processing and production. All that said, the entire team is thankful for a staff and team that keeps the business moving and growing and innovating. Claire adds, “We have the support of a great staff, and they also are working some crazy hours, too. We have to have that and we are so appreciative of that. In deer season, we rely so heavily on them or we wouldn’t be here. It can be a struggle, but the core group is just fantastic and I can’t say enough how much we appreciate them.”
With almost 70 years of history behind the business, they are firmly focused on the future, while being respectful of the past. Barret concludes, “I want to maintain the German heritage of the area, and as we grow, we will continue to tie things back to that German heritage. Whatever we can do to maintain that culture, because I remember what it was like in this area 50 years ago, and I want to maintain that a lot. For us as a business, but also for this wonderful community.”