On January 1 of this year, Lakes Meats in Hillman became RJ’s Meats under the new ownership of Ron Neiken.

But those familiar with the meat market, grocer and custom slaughter facility should recognize Neiken’s friendly face behind the meat counter. He’s been there for decades.

“I worked here from 1991 to 2015,” Neiken said. After giving construction a shot for the past few years, Neiken said he knew his calling was in the butcher shop located at Ten Mile Corner on Hwy. 27. “This is what I know and love. It’s where I’m at home.”

Custom meats

Neiken said he got his start butchering when he was hired by the shop’s first owner, Richard “Stuffy” Stauffeneker, when he was a senior in high school at Onamia High.

“Everything I learned, I learned from Stuffy,” Neiken said. From customer slaughters to aging prime beef cuts, Neiken knows his way around the butcher shop like second nature, but he also isn’t afraid to surround himself with people who bring their own skills to the operation.

RJ’s Meats prides itself in quality sausage products including traditional potato sausage, head cheese, smoked snack sticks and handmade wieners, and making sure these products are always done right is Jim Tretter, the shop’s head sausage maker.

“Jim and I have worked together for 25 years,” Neiken said. Tretter echoed Neiken’s opinion that he was also at home when manning the butcher shop.

Much of what RJ’s does in the meat department is unchanged from when the facility was Lakes Meat Market and Stuffy’s Meats before that.

Aside from selling cuts of meat at their retail counter, another mainstay of the operation is custom slaughter and processing.

“You can bring the animal in alive, and I’ll give it back to you wrapped in white paper,” Neiken said. “I love to do custom processing and custom slaughter.”

Neiken may enjoy this part of his business so much because retail butcher shops have changed over the years. Up until the 1990s, it was commonplace to have half carcasses of beeves or hogs delivered and the shop would then break them down into cuts which they would sell retail. In recent years, however, many meat distributors are delivering smaller sections of meat to the butcher shops, and there is far less breakdown involved. Neiken was quick to point out that he prides himself as a skilled breaker of carcasses.

Neiken also enjoys custom processing because he gets to tailor the products exactly to the customer’s specification, a facet that allows Neiken to get to know each individual customer on a personal basis. And personal is the way Neiken likes it at RJ’s Meats.

“We’re a family run business,” Neiken said proudly, within his daughter’s earshot. “My daughter works here. My wife works behind the scenes. My son even helps out part-time.”

General store

In addition to a well-stocked meat department, RJ’s also functions as an all-around grocery store as well.

Fresh bakery goods from Abby’s Bakery, frozen foods, canned goods and a modest fresh produce area are all part of the common amenities available beyond the meat counter.

A unique item in his grocery department is local farm fresh eggs from a farm that Neiken said is just a mile down the road.

“You can come here and get everything you need for your weekend at the cabin,” Neiken said. “Our jerkies are out of this world.”

For those interested in trying one of the many flavors of jerky or beef sticks that RJ’s makes in-house on a regular basis, the store is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays until 4 p.m., and customer slaughter and processing is available by appointment. RJ’s Meats is located at 36929 Hwy. 27, in Hillman, between The Mann Cave and Brothers Porky Pine Bar and Grille. RJ’s Meats can also be found on Facebook where Neiken said customers can find daily specials from their meat department.

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