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General store makes a name in meat

Owner’s love of cutting meat proves successful in small-town Alberta, attracting customers from throughout the region

Hines Creek, Alta. — In the village of Hines Creek, butcher Dale Stark jokes that his love of cutting meat has become so strong it’s now in his blood.

“We’re a dying breed,” he said. “Nobody wants to do the work anymore because it is hard, hard work. Your hands are cold but, once you do it, you love doing it.”

Stark spends about 14 hours a day in his shop, the Hines Creek General Store, butchering meat and selling products.

In fact, the store located in Alberta’s Peace region, has become an epicentre.

Stark sells hams, sausages and jerkies to 40 vendors across Alberta. He makes everything in store.

“They’ll drive three hours here just to get something for Thanksgiving,” Stark said. “It’s really nice to see.”

Stark said his love for meat cutting came out of nowhere.

When he was in high school, he needed five more credits to graduate so, to get them, he took up work at a butchery in Sexsmith, Alta. It was part of the school’s work experience program.

He then attended the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, a trade school in Edmonton, and earned a certificate in meat cutting and merchandising. Afterwards, he worked at various plants and grocery stores.

But his dream was to have his own shop.

“I really wanted my own meat department,” he said.

Stark and his wife, Angela, got that chance in 2010, when the former owner of the Hines Creek General Store was looking to sell. He had operated it for about 50 years and was ready to retire.

“It was great because we are both used to small towns, and the store is only about an hour away from family and everything,” Stark said.

So, the two of them bought it. Angela runs the business finances while Dale takes care of the rest.

Since they took over, they’ve expanded the meat department by doing more in-house cuts and delivering their products to Co-op grocers and gas stations.

Dale is adamant his meat is unlike the typical product. He said he uses AAA or AA beef for his sausages, and doesn’t use extra fat as a filler.

“It’s very dry, but that’s helped us out a lot,” he said.

As well, he’s grateful for his employees, who are temporary foreign workers from the Philippines.

They like working with him, too, said sausage maker JR Acebo.

“It’s been almost a year now, and I really trust myself to work in here,” Acebo said, noting at the beginning he was intimidated by all the equipment. “I like it.”

As for next year, Stark said he hopes to expand his sales to 70 stores.

“We will see where this takes us,” he said. “We’ll max out at 70 and either stay there or expand. Angela is the brains behind all this, so she’ll let us know if we can go further.”

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