After 42 years of providing Exeter with the best meats and sausage in town, Joe and Pat Luiz retired on Aug. 9. The couple sold its Exeter Meats and Processing on Palm Street to a young couple interested in carrying on the tradition of butchering, cutting and sausage making that has made the business a household name in Exeter and throughout Tulare County.
The business is now in the hands of Jason and Molly Peterson. Molly is a dairy inspector for banks while working as an independent contractor. Jason spent 11 years as a horeshoer and has just begun to learn to butcher livestock.
Molly said she doesn’t plan on making many changes except to provide customers with more payment options. A sign on the building now reads “We Accept Credit Cards,” something that has never been offered at Exeter Meats. Molly said her ultimate goal is to sell fresh deli meats by the pound over the counter to customers.
“We are excited to breathe our own life into this business,” Molly said. “We feel like there is so much potential to build on an already successful business.”
The young couple will take over a business that has third generation customers. In fact, Molly is one of them. Molly is the granddaughter of Adolph Gill, one of Luizes most loyal customers. He is also featured on the mural “Cattle Drive Down Rocky Hill” painted on the north wall of the business.
“I don’t think the mural was the main reason I bought the business but I would be lying if I said it didn’t at least play a small part in the decision,” Molly said.
As the oldest grandchild of Clorie Gill, Molly said she remembers Joe coming to the ranch to butcher livestock for her grandfather. She also has many fond memories of Adolph.
“I remember him the most when I think of riding alongside him driving cattle as a young girl,” she said. “And then I would turn around and he would be gone. After an hour he would return with Cheese Puffs and Dr. Pepper. Those were his favorite.”
But the business wasn’t always assured of success. Joe started as a clean up boy at Nat’s Locker Service in Tulare while he was still in high school in 1953. He met and married his wife Pat in 1956 and started to make a name for himself as a butcher throughout the 1960s.
“My dream was to work as a butcher for Safeway,” Joe said. “But things turned out all right when that didn’t happen.”
While working as a butcher at Exeter Meat Locker in 1971, then owner Jasper Rutherford asked Joe if he wanted to buy the business from him. Joe remembers when they opened the business in 1971, a the price of beef was 39 cents per pound compared to $2.69 now. He remembers a whole steer going for less than $200 and now it costs more than $2,000. The plan was for Joe to run the store while Pat stayed home with the kids. As most small business owners know, it doesn’t quite work that way.
“Forty-two years later and now I finally get to stay home,” Pat joked. “None of my kids are at home anymore, but we do have grandchildren.”
Joe said it was hard in the beginning as many customers were unsure of a Tulare couple running an Exeter business. Fortunately, one of their most loyal customers was one of Exeter’s biggest accounts. Since the beginning, Joe said he and Adolph Gill became good friends and business partners. For those unfamiliar with Gill, he was one of the largest cattle ranchers in U.S. history. At one time, it was said the Gill family could ride a horse from California to Wyoming and never leave their property.
“In the beginning, the Gills’ was the only meat hanging in my freezer,” Joe said. “Mr. Gill was a prince. He was very down to Earth, like an every day guy and a regular old Cowboy.”
Joe quickly earned the nickname “The Hitman” as one of the most efficient butchers in the Valley. At one time, he served as president of the California Association of Meat Processors.
“I remember people calling for Joe and I would say, ‘He’s not here. He’s out killing’,” Pat recalled. “I eventually started saying he was out because of the reactions over the phone.”
Despite her husband’s reputation, Pat said the business didn’t really take off until they began offering sausage over the counter. She said when one of Joe’s good friends, Bill Powell, was chronically ill and unable to provide potato sausage for the Swedish Mill Restaurant in Kingsburg, he entrusted Joe with the recipe. Joe said the recipe came with the understanding that if he screwed it up, “Bill would be laughing at me from above after he passed on.” Pretty soon, Joe added linguica, a Portuguese staple, to the potato sausage, and over the counter sales began to take off.
“At the time we were just meat processing,” Pat said. “We didn’t sell anything over the counter. But when we started to make sausage we saw a lot more business.”
In 1988, Joe added a tumbler to his business. The piece of equipment uses a vacuum to create pressure to tenderize the muscle. The machine then rotates the tenderized meat in spices and seasoning for an even, all-around flavor.
“Now we can’t keep the burgundy pepper steak in stock,” Pat said.
The biggest boon to the business may have been a local event. Fourteen years ago the Exeter Brewfest began offering sausage with its beer tasting and Exeter Meats has been filling the huge order ever since. And even better than the actual Lions Club order was the word of mouth the business received.
“People would try the sausage and ask where they got it,” Joe said. “And they would send them to us. Many of those people would come back year after year. The Brewfest really jump started our sausage business.”
The event launched a whole series of sausages for Joe and Pat’s business including beer bangers, jalapeno cheddar, cheddar brats, and basque. Pat and Joe felt like they officially became Exeterites after being honored with the Exeter Chamber of Commerce’s Heritage Award in 2008.
Hanging Up the Apron
While Pat may be looking forward to spending more time at home, she said she will miss the customers and their daily, weekly or monthly visits.
“I love the people here and they have been very good to us,” Pat said. “We have had many good customers become great friends.”
Joe said he will never forget the support he received from Exeter during his bought with cancer several years ago. He said people always took the time to ask how he was doing and pray for his cancer to go into remission.
“I am deeply grateful to this city and this community,” Joe said. “We live in God’s Country here in Exeter.”
But Joe isn’t quite ready to hang up his tools. Joe said he will continue butchering in order to train Jason before completely stepping away.
“You get used to a routine. I would get up at 4:30 a.m., have coffee and read the paper, then defrost a room, sharpen the knives and get ready for customers,” Joe said. “There are all these sounds you get used to hearing but I don’t hear them at the house. Right now, the house is a little too quiet.”
Once he is completely retired, Pat said they are looking to spend more time with their grandchildren.
Their youngest son, Joe, has two daughters. One daughter is an actress living in Portland who will make an appearance on NBC’s Grimm. The other is a professor at Boston University in Boston.
“I’ve always wanted to see New England in the fall,” Pat said. “When we owned the business we could never leave for more than a weekend. Now we can go for a week and take our time.”