RGV meat markets provide fresh, local items
Eliseo Castro has been with the Lopez family – Lopez Supermarkets in particular – for 50 years. He’s done and knows pretty much everything there is to know about the business or meat markets, working his way up from a bag boy to general manager of the five Lopez Supermarkets and the carnicera that they recently opened. He’s seen changes, markets come and go, and how the large supermarkets have taken over.
But when it comes to meat – especially with the South Texas way of life and the people’s passion to barbecue – there hasn’t been a lot of change in what he still refers to today as “the old-fashioned meat market.” Superior service, meat the way the customer likes it and competitive prices are all reasons why meat markets continue to thrive today in South Texas.
Of course, having the Dallas Cowboys getting back to their winning ways doesn’t hurt at all either, said Rick Rodriguez at Bob Starks Beef Shop in Mission, one of the two locations owned by Rick and his brother Benny. From the last game the Cowboys played this past season, a first-round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, to the next Sunday of football with no more Cowboys, meat sales dropped “30 to 40 percent.”
“It’s just not the same when they aren’t playing. People love to barbeque on football Sunday and when the Cowboys are winning, it seems that everyone is having a barbeque,” Rodriguez said. “The best is when they are playing a night game and people are out barbequing all day. They load up the day before.”
Other big days – other than NFL Sundays – are during boxing matches, particular soccer matches, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter. Castro said their best day is New Year’s Eve. “It seems that everyone is cooking out on that day. We have people come in ahead of time and put in special orders.”
Castro said the most popular product is probably bistek asada and finger ribs. He said chicken fajita is always popular but especially so when the economy is low or people want to keep their expenses low – or to buy even more meat for the grill. At Bob Starks it’s still fajita. Also becoming popular is the tomahawk steak, a ribeye with a protruding bone that you can grab and either look like Fred Flintstone when eating it or hold it to where it looks like a meaty, beefy tomahawk.
But in all of those 50 years, Castro said the family and the business try to keep the same system as close to what it was when it opened, more than 80 years ago. “We pride ourselves in being and looking like an old-fashioned meat market,” Castro said, adding that “Our customer service is the top priority and having the right selection of meat for when people come. The grocery part of the business isn’t where we survive but we try to keep the things people want when they come here. Our efforts lie in the meat market.”
The Rodriguez brothers claim the same formula for success. They purchased the market from Robert Stark near the corner of 10th Street and Nolana in McAllen then moved to the current location on 10th and Dove, where they have resided for 18 years. They opened their second location in Mission about 10 years ago. The original Bob Starks beef shop on Nolana had already been in operation for 20 years when the brothers purchased it.
“We have kept the same recipe formulas and quality of our meat products throughout all our years in business,” it says on their website. “The key difference between us and other markets is that we only sell Choice Northern beef and pork that is sent to us from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and occasionally from Canada. “
A crucial ingredient to being successful are the accessories that go with meat – that includes, spices, charcoal, wood chips, tortillas and, of course refreshments. If meat markets can’t provide customers with one-stop shopping, they could lose them due to the ease of getting everything in one trip at a large chain supermarket.
At Bob Starks you can even purchase handmade cutting boards or grills and all the accessories that go with them. Among their shelf full of spices and marinades are three local spices, including the highly popular Chupacabra.
“People just love it,” Rodriguez said. “You can put it on anything. We focus on customer service and loyalty and that has been a good formula.”
Edinburg resident Joey Guerrero can be seen on the front porch of his house grilling almost on a daily basis. His foods of choice are fajitas, ribs and jalapeno poppers. He is a regular customer of Juniors Meat Market in San Juan.
“The prices are better than the big supermarkets, there are more options and the meat is better,” he said. “Plus I can get a cut however thick I’d like it and they have everything I need for my barbeque.”
Sometimes it’s not just the traditional meat. Bob Starks has whole, frozen piglets and other products such as ground buffalo armadillo poppers – a twist on the traditional jalapeno poppers with jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and shrimp, and wrapped in bacon. Another popular item year round are the beef and chicken shish kabobs.
Castro said he receives special requests, especially from local residents who are native to Central America. “They have certain tastes and certain spices and cuts that they like. We do what we can to provide it for them.
“The meat market is our business. We’ve seen stores and markets come and go but we’ve been blessed and we will keep doing what we can to take care of our customers.”
March 2017 cover story by Henry Miller