By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Wow! Talk about a beehive. I visited Gartner’s Country Meat Market, 7450 N.E. Killingsworth St., a couple of days before the Fourth of July, and it was jumping. The store was packed with customers buying ground round, T-bone steaks, pork chops, cured ham, cured bacon, ribs of all sorts, frankfurters, wieners, bratwurst, chicken this, and chicken that. Things moved fast, but in an orderly fashion. All you had to do was take a number and wait for it to appear on the electronic reader board. I think that only twenty seconds went by before mine came up. That’s because an army of Gartner employees were at the ready behind the counter to fill each order in a surprisingly polite and eager manner.
“It might look overwhelming when you walk in for the first time,” explained Jerry Yost, “but we have twenty people at the counter. So they go through the numbers pretty fast.”
Yost would know a thing or two. He’s been the general manager of Gartner’s for the past seven years, and his career there has stretched back 30 years when he started as a member of the cleanup crew.
That means that Yost worked with the founder of the meat market, Jack Gartner. Gartner was born in Portland in 1927 and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he honed his meat-cutting skills at several groceries before opening Gartner’s Country Meat Market in 1959. He added his father, Hans, and his mother, Frieda, to the company the next year. Hans had been trained in Germany as a master sausage maker, and his old-world recipes and techniques are still in use at Gartner’s today.
In 1965, Jack Gartner brought in Jerry Minor as a partner, and Gartner’s continued to thrive. They gradually phased out their duties and transferred the ownership to Jack’s daughter, Sheri Gartner Puppo, and Jerry’s son, Rick Minor, well before Jack passed away in 2009. Through Puppo and Minor, the legacy of their parents has not diminished, because of the business’s emphasis on high-quality products and customer service.
Gartner’s is a retail-only shop. That is, it sells only to people who walk in through the door, rather than to groceries and restaurants. It hasn’t become an upscale, boutique shop that sells cheeses, olives and fancy foods, but it does have the requisite complementary items such as rubs, seasonings and potato salad. You can also purchase T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps with the Gartner’s logo.
According to Yost, Gartner’s employs between 35 and 40 people during the summer. A lot of them have been working at Gartner’s for more than ten years. But the company does have several younger workers who earn money during the summer for college.
“We have a full kitchen,” said Yost. “We make almost 50 varieties of sausage in house – with game season all combined. All of the sausages are handmade with natural casings, and no artificial smoke is used. Hunters can bring in their game and we will process it. The same with farm-raised animals: beef and pork. We do sell grass-fed ground beef. We do a lot of poultry: marinated chicken breasts, thighs, butt-rubbed chickens and stuffed game-hens. We do fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving, too.”
Gartner’s offers two parking lots: one in front and one in back of the store. But during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, things can get so busy that they use a parking patrol to help customers find a parking space. Because of its size and volume of business, Gartner’s may be the largest retail meat market west of the Mississippi.
“We are one of the few places that still offer hanging beef,” noted Yost. “If you want to buy half a beef or a hind quarter or a front quarter, we’ll cut it to your specifications. It’s a dying art, but we have kept it going.”
Although it is located on a stretch of highway that makes it look like an island, Gartner’s maintains strong support of its Northeast Portland neighbors by supporting the Madison High School baseball, Little League, local schools, churches, the Sam Barlow High School Equestrian Team and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Community involvement is certainly one of the many reasons that Gartner’s is so popular. For more information, visit gartnersmeats.com.