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Rural Missouri Magazine

Purveyors of pork
Kurzweils' Country Meats is home to the world-famous smoked pork chop

by Jason Jenkins

Since 1995, Kurzweils’ Country Meats has offered a wide selection of distinctive, value-added meat products at their stores in Garden City and Lee’s Summit. Chris, left, and his father, Jim, manage the meat market, while Jim’s younger brothers Tom, right, and Dennis, not pictured, manage the family’s farming operation.

Over the years, Jim and Chris Kurzweil have catered many events, but the father-and-son managers of Kurzweils’ Country Meats in Garden City won’t attend what is perhaps their most unique booking to date.

On Aug. 1, the Kingdom of Tonga, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, coronates King George Tupou V, who ascended to the throne following his father’s death. At a coronation feast, 135 whole hogs that Jim Kurzweil procured and prepared, will be roasted in traditional luau fashion to celebrate the new king’s reign.

“A broker in Florida who knew me through other business we’d done contacted me about the job,” Jim says. “The hogs were prepared luau-style, then frozen up and stacked like cordwood for the plane ride over there. It’ll be quite the sight. Definitely the biggest hog roast I’ve ever heard of.”

Luckily, for those who enjoy quality meats, you don’t have to be Polynesian royalty or fly halfway around the world. The Kurzweils have been creating award-winning smoked sensations at their Cass County deli and restaurant since 1995.

For many years, Jim, along with younger brothers Tom and Dennis, managed the 5,000-acre farm that their parents, James and Cecilia Kurzweil, began. From the mid 1970s to the early 1990s, the family raised row crops exclusively, including corn, soybeans and wheat.

The brothers expanded the family operation in 1991 to include a farrow-to-wean hog operation. Starting with 400 sows, they raised pigs from birth to a weight of about 10 to 13 pounds, and then sold them to finishing operations in Iowa.

In 1995, in the wake of plummeting hog prices and record-high costs for feed, the brothers were faced with a choice: expand the hog operation and hope to survive the fluctuating market or try something new.

The Kurzweil’s farrow-to-wean operation raises pigs to about 10 to 13 pounds before selling them to finishing operations in Iowa.

The Osage Valley Electric Cooperative members chose the latter.

“We decided to go straight to the customer,” Jim says proudly.

So in the spring of 1995, Tom and Dennis assumed the management of the crop and hog operations, and Jim, and eventually his son, Chris, managed the meat market.

The family began selling smoked meats, fresh steaks and chicken from the “Red Barn,” a building adjacent to their current location. Though they didn’t have a full kitchen, they served prepared food at lunch and sold other value-added agriculture products.

These purveyors of pork understood the need for a signature product. Jim quickly decided the product would be their now world-famous smoked pork chop.

“A long, long time ago, we went to the Amana Colonies in Iowa to the Farm Progress Show, which is the largest outdoor farm show in the U.S.,” Jim recalls. “We ate at a restaurant where they served you family-style, and they had smoked pork chops.
“They were so darn good. I never forgot them.”

Today, Kurzweils sells about 1,000 pounds of smoked pork chops each week, more during the busy holiday season. As the family business has grown and matured, they moved beyond the Red Barn, which now houses a Russell Stover candy outlet, and they’ve constantly expanded their product line with new and unique offerings.

They make all their own deli meats, including pastrami, salami, bologna, Canadian bacon, smoked turkey breast, roast beef and corned beef, along with Old World favorites such as braunsweiger and head cheese. If its name contains the word, “loaf,” such as pickle loaf, pepper loaf or pizza loaf, you’ll find it in the deli case.

Chris is the company’s research and development team, and he’s constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations for their homemade brats and sausages. In the past two years, his creations have earned the meat market multiple medals at the Hermann Wurstfest competition.

“You’ll read in food magazines about what the ‘in’ flavors are, then you can base some of your stuff off that,” he explains. “Other things you come up with on your own, or you see somebody else has done it and done well with it.”

Zach Larsen, an employee at the Kurzweils’ Garden City location, makes a link of jalapeño cheddar brats.

Right now, Chris’ latest creation is a roasted red pepper and asparagus sausage, a flavor combination that is trendy and proving to be popular with customers.

“We made 50 pounds in a trial batch, and boom! It was just gone,” he says.

The sheer number of brat and sausage varieties offered at Kurzweils’ Country Market is enough to make the top executives at Johnsonville green with envy, let alone the innovative flavors.

In addition to traditional favorites like chorizo, boudan and smoked Andouille sausage, Kurzweils’ offers unique combinations such as smoked tomato and basil sausage, bacon cheeseburger brats, smoked swiss and mushroom brats, spinach and feta chicken sausage and the spicy jalapeño cheddar brat.

“We’ve got a chili cheese dog that’s like a bowl of chili wrapped in a sausage,” Jim adds.
Not all of Chris’ creations pan out.

“I’ve had a few flops,” he admits. “We call them ‘fizzlewurst,’ because they just fizzle out.”

Among the most memorable was an attempt to capture the flavor of a hot sauce the Kurzweils carry in their store. “The only problem,” Chris explains, “was that the vinegar in the sauce kept the sausage from binding together, so when you bit into it, it just fell apart.”

Chris isn’t the only one whipping up homemade goodies. Jim also likes to try his hand in the kitchen, but instead of stuffing sausages, he prefers piecrusts. The meat market offers a variety of Jim’s fruit pies, which are made from scratch, then frozen. The take-and-bake choices include classics such as apple, cherry and peach, but also gooseberry, apricot and strawberry-rhubarb.

With 10 employees, the meat market is open for lunch seven days a week, attracting a mix of locals and those heading down the road for a weekend at Truman Lake or the Lake of the Ozarks.

Nichole Marshall, a real estate agent from Garden City, eats at Kurzweils’ Country Meats about once a week, often with her mother, Denise Carter, who also sells real estate.

Chris brings an order to the table for a group of regular customers from the Harrisonville Parks and Recreation Department. The group usually enjoys lunch at Kurzweils’ Country Meats about once a week.

“This is one of our favorite stops for lunch,” Nichole says. “We get all of our barbecue stuff here for parties and summer cookouts.”

Denise agrees. “They always make you feel welcome and that they’re glad to see you,” she says. “I think a lot of big businesses don’t appreciate you, but I feel like they really appreciate you coming in. They take time to visit with you and make sure everything is OK.”

Since 2006, the family has operated a second retail location in the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, but all the smoking and other preparation happens at the Garden City store. If two retail outlets, a restaurant and a catering business weren’t enough, Kurzweils’ also specializes in customized corporate gift boxes, which are popular during the holidays.

Jim and Chris are always on the lookout for new ways to expand the reach of their family brand. One such endeavor is the Kurzweils Fall Fling Smokin’ & Chunkin’, which will take place Oct. 24-25. The event combines a Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned barbecue contest and a “pumpkin chunkin’” contest, where participants compete to see who can launch pumpkins the farthest using air cannons with barrels reaching 50 feet in length.

“Last year, we shot pumpkins over half a mile, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the competition holds this year,” says Chris. “There’s some talk that somebody might bring an old-fashioned catapult, too.”

Just as the meat market business has grown, so too has the family’s hog operation. Following several expansions, Tom and Dennis now manage 2,400 sows. But like in 1995, the Kurzweils again find themselves in a situation where high feed costs — especially $7 per bushel corn — have caused hog prices to plummet.

“Right now is very depressing. Some of these little hogs, they say they’re not worth anything,” Tom says. “These hogs that should be bringing $40 on contract are only bringing $3.50 to $5 a piece. No one can afford to feed them out, or at least that’s what they say.”

In addition to value-added meats, Kurzweils’ also carries its own line of specialty sauces, relishes, dressings and marinades..

Thankfully, the market seems poised for a comeback, as futures markets already show hog prices rebounding in 2009.

The decision to bring value-added meat products direct to customers not only helped the farm, but it’s created a successful enterprise. Business has been up so far at the meat market this year, something Jim speculates is due to the lackluster economy.

“People are staying home and cooking instead of going out to eat,” he says. “I can’t complain about that.”

Kurzweils’ Country Meats original store is located at the intersection of Highways 7 and T about 3.5 miles west of Garden City. For more information, call 816-773-6547. Contact the Lee’s Summit location by calling 816-554-7675.

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