End of an era: Evensons leaving Dean's Meat Market in Dickinson after 26 years
It’s been a good, long career for Dean and Cheryl Evenson, owners of Dean’s Meat Market in Dickinson. But the couple has decided it’s time to hang up their aprons and put away their knives.
“There’s an awful lot of heavy lifting involved, and Dean’s got rheumatoid arthritis,” Cheryl said. “It’s time to close this chapter and open up another book.”
After 26 years of business, the beloved store will close April 1, Dean decided. They are actively looking for a buyer and would love to help get them started.
“It would be a good business for somebody if they wanted to do it,” Dean said. “It’s done really well. They sky’s the limit right now the way the economy is.”
The lean and fat years
Dean got his start working at the SuperValu in his hometown of Plentywood, Mont. It was there that he met Cheryl Thomas, a Belfield woman who was spending the summer after graduating high school helping her brother keep house in the northern Montana town.
“We’ve been married for 40 years, so I guess it was a good thing,” Cheryl said.
After they married, the Evensons moved all over Montana with Dean working for Buttrey Food and Drug, eventually taking a position as a department head at the Dickinson store in the mid-1980s. Dean later became a silent partner in what was once Haag’s Meat Market, taking over the store in 1988.
“Twenty six years ago we took it over in February and it became Dean’s Meat Market at that time,” Dean said. “We’ve done well over the years, increased the sausage line by five-fold.”
There were lean years — in the beginning they butchered out on farms on evenings and weekends to make ends meet.
“If I wouldn’t have been working at Walmart, we wouldn’t have made a go of it,” Cheryl said. “Little by little, we would go out and do what we had to do to survive. We’ve come a long way since then.”
Word of mouth
Once word got out about the quality of their meat — both what they custom processed and what they sold, business took off.
“Word of mouth can either make you or not,” Cheryl said.
Dean added: “If you get your name out there over the years like we have, if people want to find you, they’ll find you, knowing that you do a good job. The word of mouth is best and the worst advertising you could ever have. Screw up one thing and everybody’s going to know about it. But if you constantly do things right and be honest with people, you’re going to have all the people in the world.”
They custom process beef, wild game and once a horse, but once was enough, Cheryl said.
They’ve also processed lamb, bison, pork and sell several types of fish.
Dean taught meat cutting at Dickinson State University at one time. The 60-hour class covered the basics.
“A lot of them were kids from farms who wanted to learn how to cut their own,” Cheryl said.
‘We can get that’
The Evensons have expanded their business over the years. They started out with five types of sausage and have grown to more than 30.
As trends have changed, so has their inventory.
“If we can’t sell a product, we don’t carry it,” Cheryl said.
Lamb was once popular, but after they lost their supplier, it quickly fell out of favor. With the increase of Hispanic citizens in the area, they are selling more skirt steak, which is used in carne asada and fajitas.
“We have kind of changed to provide customers with what they want, also,” Cheryl said.
Several of his customers will miss the business, even going as far as saying it can’t close, Dean said.
Dickinson resident Floyd Heinitz, who said he has bought meat solely from the market for five years, was surprised when he heard the news.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Heinitz said. “It’s always a clean place. He’s nice to talk to. His wife is nice. Everything is good about the whole store.”
The long-time customer comes in often to “give them a hard time” and joke around, Dean said. The steady prices, fresh meat and friendly service is what makes Heinitz, like many customers, come back for more. Heinitz added he would miss it all if it closes for good.
“He’s always got fresh meat. Always,” Heinitz said.”To see him go, I wonder where I am going to get my meat. His meat has always been the best.”
Many people would hit up Ponderosa Liquors after stopping at neighboring Dean’s, picking up supplies for their weekend barbecues, Ponderosa owner Don Paul said.
“I know a lot of my customers on Thursday or Friday — they’re coming in with a bag from Dean’s,” Paul said. “They set it on the counter because I always try to steal it — I joke about, ‘Oh, you brought me some steaks, alright!’”
The two businesses have gone hand-in-hand over the years, especially when Paul did taxidermy.
“They would take the deer over there and bring the head over here,” Paul said. “We’d get the whole round-robin.”
Paul will be sad to see the Evansons go.
“They’ve been a great neighbor,” Paul said. “They’re just good people.”
‘Opening the next book’
Other than a trip to Utah to see their daughter and grandson, they have no big plans for after April 1. They still want to work, but nothing as labor-intensive as running the meat market, nor anything as sedentary as a desk job.
“It’s really hard when you’ve been doing what we’ve been doing and going all the time to make yourself have to sit,” Cheryl said. “I just don’t think I could do that eight hours a day. We’re on the go from the time we get here.”
While no formal offers have been made, the Evensons would rather sell Dean’s Meat Market than close it down.
“A lot of people are going to miss us, and that’s a good thing,” Cheryl said. “They’re really happy that they’ve made this decision. But they’re really unhappy because where are they going to get product like they can get from here?”
Dickinson Press Assistant Editor April Baumgarten contributed to this story.