Wednesday, October 14, 2009

M & T Meats Third Generation

Hawkinsville's M & T Meats
Business Still Growing

The old shack still stands at the water’s edge, a lot more worse for the wear than in the 1950s when a few locals would show up on Fred Thompson’s back lot about once a week to play poker. How did they know there would be a poker game? If they smelled chicken and dumplings from Mrs. Alma’s kitchen, they knew it was poker night.
Sure! Playing poker in those days was illegal, but who really cared. The scene was huge moss-laden oak trees, and it was a men’s only night out in the little thatched roofed shack. My guess is that it was table stakes.
Mister Fred as he was known to most everyone was a little bit entrepreneur and a little bit gambler, but he came by both honestly. As a young boy, around fourteen-years-old, his mother kicked him out of the house. Quickly, he found out it was sink or swim. He followed the railroad tracks from Cochran walking toward a new existence in nearby—if ten miles walking could be considered nearby—Hawkinsville. Along the way, he ran into some men rolling dice. When he left home that day, he had a quarter in his pocket. He jumped into the game and when he quit, he had over two dollars. Still no fortune, however it was enough to get him a place to stay, something he couldn’t have done with the quarter.
During his growing up years, his life was hardscrabble, but he didn’t quit. By the time the 1950s rolled around he had been married to Alma Beeland for over a decade. In Mrs. Alma, he found a lifetime mate who would do anything he wanted to do. They were true lifetime soul mates. He built a small business on the Eastman Highway and named it Fred’s Drive-in, a barbecue specialty restaurant with dancing and private dining rooms. No alcohol beverages were sold on the premises, but like other businesses, they let their customers who came to dance, “brown-bag” their own spirits and the diner sold setups for the customers. Again, that’s just the way things were done back then. The location of Fred’s Drive-in was just east of WCEH Radio Station. After ten years, Thompson sold the business lock, stock and barrel. Always the entrepreneur, Mister Fred had a fish market in Hawkinsville which Mrs. Alma ran for him. He also had a Dollarama Store in Eastman for a couple of years, but again like most entrepreneurs, some businesses fail. That was the case with the Dollar store. Probably a good thing for Sam Walton that it did fail. In 1963, he and his son-in-law, Alvin Mathis, Jr. decided to begin making sausage for public consumption. They purchased a meat grinder and a casing packer for selling link sausage.
His son-in-law, and his daughter, Judy were both employed at Robins AFB and Junior delivered and sold the fresh sausage to his co-workers.
“When they started,” Judy Mathis said, “they were killing one hog a week, and the reputation for the pork began to spread and it jumped to two, then three, then four a week. They named the business M & T Meats.”

Judy and Junior helped him with the business as much as possible, but finally he hired some help and they continued working at the base.
By 1970, Thompson was ready to retire from the meat business and Judy left her job at RAFB and began to ease into the M & T Meats business. She and Junior finally agreed to buy her father out and become the sole owners. They moved into the building on the back of the lot and began to re-model it. They added another room and soon were doing all of the meat smoking and curing in that location. They fixed up the front of the building for their customers to come into and the business continued to prosper.

Nearly twenty years later, 1992, their son, Phil Mathis left Georgia Southern College in Statesboro, one subject shy of a diploma. He began working in the business and they soon saw that he was made for it. His aplomb with customers was noticed immediately. Judy and Junior Mathis who had never let their children work in the business soon agreed that he was a limb off his grandfather’s tree.
“Phil was a natural in this business,” his mother said. “Within a year, he had a change in his life. A young woman from Apopka, Florida came up to Pulaski County with her father to go deer hunting. He bagged one and someone told his daughter that Phil would process it for her. It was an incredible meeting for the two young people and before long, Tammy and Phil decided to get married.”
As Phil eased into the business, it became evident that he had a vision to bring other products to his customers which would include beef, cheese, vegetables, Irish and Sweet potatoes, syrup, frozen biscuits and barbecue sauce—the original recipe of Mrs. Alma.

It seems that Phil and Tammy knew by instinct what their customers wanted, and they were constantly looking at a full house of customers, clamoring for a spot nearer the meat counter display. Once near the meat counter, the customers eyes reminded this writer of a child with sparkly eyes at Christmas time. Sausage—fresh and smoked, ground or in links—along with pork chops, ham, red links, souse meat and bacon all glistened with freshness in their appearance. Ask for a pound of sausage, and one scoop would place it on the scales at a few ounces over a pound. Informed that it was a little more than a pound, customers always say, “That’s okay. Just leave it on there.” Incredible how much extra sausage can be sold that way over the course of a year. However, if it didn’t meet the expectations of superb and fresh taste, the customers would not return. But return they do, from our community, and others as well.
Just a week ago, the third move of the M & T business was completed, a few months later than expected, but moved it was. M & T Meats in a nice new building.
You won’t believe it until you come in and take a look for yourself.
“I can’t say enough for our employees,” Phil Mathis said. “A business is only as good as its employees. Throughout this huge process of moving, I have seen their dedication. They have been absolutely superb. We could not have done it without their great effort.”
In looking at the new edifice either from the outside or the inside is almost beyond belief. Mathis, with his visionary skills has designed a state of the arts business with all new equipment from the front to the back and side to side which will sell wholesale, retail and e-Commerce (Internet.)

Customers will be standing by the all new beef-only counter drooling at the wonderful cuts of fresh beef. Exit that and go to the right and take a look at their deli counter featuring top sandwich meats and Tammy’s special chicken salad recipe. From there to the far right is a huge rotisserie which will have all kinds of meats prepared for take-home. Oh yes, and there is a fresh seafood counter with scrumptious shrimp, salmon and crab legs. Did I forget? They also have the signature sausage and pork counter—bigger and better than ever. Add to these delicacies, a contingent of fresh and frozen vegetables in the middle of the store’s display.

Reminiscent of a newly christened ship, the all-new, gleaming M & T Meats stands proudly on the southern side of the Lower River Road full of treats. Phil, Tammy and all of their employees are ready for a new chapter and stand ready to welcome all their old customers and the new ones as well.
To place an order for shipment in the continental United States, call (478) 892-9810 and they will ship it to you. Ummm good! Sausage and biscuits for breakfast.


Anonymous said...

Good article Sam, wish I lived near by so I could enjoy some of that wonderful meat you have discribed.


wmnn3095 said...

Another great story Sam. It's a good thing I had lunch already or I might be on my way down there.
Dub Simmons

Anonymous said...

My husband and I buy ALL of our meats at M&T. Our family deserves the best there is and we believe we have found it at M&T! Phil and Tammy are doing a wonderful job and they keep us smiling and our taste buds happy :)

Semi-Slacker Mom said...

Great article! Tammy is a great girl. Their son, Carson is in my daughter's class.

Ashlee said...

Very good article -- I linked to it in a blog post I just wrote.

Brown Eyed Carolina Girl said...

M&T meats is the best there is; we don't buy from any other vendor!! I love their pimento cheese (and have been known to eat most of it before getting home)! We bought 7 racks of lamb for our Thanksgiving dinner and it was scrumptious! I will be purchasing my Prime Rib from M&T tomorrow for our Christmas Day dinner. And for Christmas Eve, I will be purchasing shrimp, scallops, crab legs and sausages for a laid back "the door is open, come on in Low Country Boil" for family and friends. Great job, awesome products and a great staff!