At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mac and Celsie Sussex—owners of Bear Mountain Beef in Hawk Springs, Wyoming—faced both a problem and an opportunity.
Despite producing their own cattle, they lacked control over processing. Meanwhile, demand for their locally-raised beef skyrocketed. With no USDA-inspected facilities near their ranch, they hauled finished cattle 200-300 miles for processing at a mixture of facilities. Managing transportation costs, logistics, and tracking finished products “was a nightmare,” Mac recalled.
Mac and Celsie decided to solve the problem by teaming up with Mac’s cousin Boyd Evans to start a meat processing business. Processing cattle in-house would afford them control over their final product—from slaughter to sale. They knew it would take a lot of hard work, Mac said, but “when opportunities present themselves, you can’t turn them away.”
The duo were well-versed in gritty, entrepreneurial work, each cutting their teeth as welders and ranchers while building a local insurance brokerage. Alongside this work, they explored building a traditional brick-and-mortar processing facility but decided against it. Build costs were high, regulations were complex, and it would take too long to get operational.
Late one night, a family member discovered Friesla Mobile and Modular Meat Processing Systems while searching the web for alternatives. Mac and Celsie dove in, working with Friesla’s team to begin designing a USDA-compliant Mobile Harvest Unit as a harvest floor and Cut and Wrap Module for carcass fabrication and finished goods production. They also gained a consistent supply of finished cattle by partnering with the Uthmann family from Mountain View Meats in nearby Fort Collins, Colorado.
Throughout the planning process, Mac and Celsie navigated state and county regulations, which ranged from acquiring permits for a steel building to negotiating a wastewater treatment plan. Mac described the undertaking as “a beast” and said Friesla’s support was “invaluable” in helping them overcome obstacles.
In December 2021—six months after pouring concrete on their site—Bear Mountain Beef’s team gained their USDA Grant of Inspection and began processing animals in their new facility. Celsie said their planning efforts, alongside Friesla’s guidance, helped them move quickly together. “There’s no way we could have built and opened a brick and mortar processing plant in that amount of time,” Celsie reflected. “It’s a testament to Friesla and their work with us on the front end.”
In addition to the processing facility, they opened a new storefront for Bear Mountain Beef in neighboring Torrington. Mac and Celsie delved deep into the startup process and remain heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of both businesses. They emphasized the importance of “jumping in and getting your hands dirty” as business owners.
LEARNING & TEACHING
The duo’s meat production background and deepening understanding of meat processing has equipped them to field wide-ranging customer questions and educate consumers. Past generations of American consumers knew the difference between a rump roast and a chuck roast and sourced meat from local butchers. The rise of convenient in-person and online shopping options may tempt modern shoppers to think food “comes from the grocery store,” Celsie explained. She furthered that today’s food producers have an opportunity to educate consumers on where their food comes from and how it is made.
Bear Mountain Beef’s team works to address this knowledge gap by maintaining an open door policy for folks who want to learn more about their operations. A variety of groups have toured their facilities, ranging from grade school field trips and college agricultural classes to fellow ranchers and meat processors. Mac emphasized that sharing their lessons learned is helping ensure the ranching and meat processing industries remain resilient in the future.
POISED TO GROW
Despite launching a second retail store in Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, and a Butcher School to train meat processors and managers—both in May 2023—Mac and Celsie aren’t finished growing their businesses and brand. “Even with the hurdles we’ve faced along the way, we would do this all over again,” Mac reflected. “It’s been rewarding to build a processing business in our community and to see it grow.”