Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.
Well, that or chicken.
Or maybe pork. Or buffalo.
Then there’s rabbit. And venison. Or, if your tastes truly range beyond the ordinary, how about some rattlesnake? Or you could toss a couple of alligator brats on the grill.
You can get all that and more from a Colorado Springs institution, Andy’s Meat Market.
Andy’s, at 2915 E. Platte Ave., has been in business since 1952, though it started under a different name, Farmers Market, and in a different location, across and up the street a bit (where the Wendy’s is now, on Platte near Circle Drive). It moved to its current location after 10 years or so.
The founder was Andy Aibner — “the nicest man you’d ever meet in your life,” says grandson Jonathan Aibner, the store’s manager and head meat cutter. Andy died in 1996 at age 87.
“Even in his later years, he’d come down here and he’d be wrapping hot dogs all day long,” says Karen Aibner, Andy’s daughter-in-law. Karen was part of the family business even before she became part of the family; she was dating Andy’s son, Bob, when she started working at the store. She and Bob, who is semiretired, now own the business.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says with a laugh.
For Jonathan, working at Andy’s Meat Market is “the first and last job I will ever have.”
“I started in the back during game season when I was about 7 years old, skinning deer and elk,” he says. It was fun working in the store then, he says, “and 30 years later, it still is.”
Wild game processing remains part of the business, but not as big a part as in the old days, Jonathan says. “I don’t think near as many people are hunting these days. … It used to be a cheap way to put meat on the table. It’s more of a luxury now.”
Still, the freezer is filled with carcasses of deer, elk and more from early October through December.
“We stay really busy with it during those few months,” Jonathan says.
On the retail side, the meats come from a variety of sources.”As much as we’d love to keep everything local, it’s impossible with the amount of stuff we sell to source just from Colorado,” he says.
The beef does come from Colorado, as well as Nebraska. Most of the pork comes out of Kansas. “Poultry we get from Red Bird Farms in Arkansas. Everything we sell is all natural — no hormones, no additives no steroids. We try to keep everything as good a quality as we can that’s affordable to the public.”
Andy’s makes most if its own sausages, Jonathan says. “We’ve got about 30 different kinds of sausage that we make right here in house.” And the market is also known for its “world famous” beef jerky, he says.
“We make it two or three times a week, and it’s not enough, but there’s only so many hours in a day. Making jerky is the most time-consuming thing we do; it’s about a three-day process. It gets shipped all over the world.”
As health professionals recommend moving toward a plant-based diet and largely avoiding red meat, per capita beef consumption in the U.S. has been dropping since peaking in the 1970s. Chicken consumption, meanwhile, has been increasing.
“We probably sell more chicken than we used to,” Karen says. But she hasn’t seen any signs of a widespread flight from beef.
There is an appetite for the more exotic meats as well, she says — such as the alligator, which comes from Louisiana, and the rattlesnake, from a supplier in Oklahoma.
“I took some home and fried it up like chicken,” Karen says. “I won’t starve if I have to eat snake. It wasn’t bad.”
It’s not all meat at Andy’s Meat Market, by the way. Andy’s also carries pies “from a pie place in Nebraska,” Jonathan says. “We’ve been carrying them for several years. We sell a ton of them. It’s better than any homemade pie I’ve ever had. We have a lot of customers come in just for the pies.”
Generally, business goes up and down depending on the economy, Karen says. “We’re all hanging in here still.”
“We have watched the neighborhood build and change around us,” Jonathan says. “Twenty-five years ago, Walmart opened right down the street. We thought that was really going to hurt us. It didn’t. i think it helped us. We’ve kind of got our niche. People will come in here, order meat, then go to Walmart for the rest.”
Despite the changing landscape, plenty of customers have remained regulars. “We’ve got lots and lots of people we’re on a first-name basis with,” Jonathan says. “They’re not as much customers as they are friends.”
Andy’s also has some longtime employees, including one marking 30 years on the job. The store has seven employees and needs a couple more, but help is hard to find, Karen says.
Meat cutters and butchers are a dying breed, she says. But while Jonathan agrees that fewer people have that skill set, “I can train somebody to do it the way we like to have it done. Honestly, we’re just having a hard time finding people who want to work and will work 40 hours.”
The store does a bit of advertising, but most business is word of mouth, Karen says. (Multiple times as a Best of the Springs winner in The Gazette helps too, she notes.)
So what’s the secret to the shop’s longevity? Honesty, Jonathan says.
“You don’t stay in business for 67 years by trying to cheat people or not doing right by the public. You just keep it as honest and fair as you possibly can, and it seems to work out for everyone.”
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