If there is one thing constant in Dean Harter’s life, it’s work. His Greenville business, Sage’s Meat Processing, which he runs with his wife, Kim, has him working so often that their oldest daughter has decided to hold her graduation open house at the store to assure he attends the event.
Though it may seem Rebecka Harter’s father is too busy to take even just an afternoon off to enjoy the celebration of her educational rite of passage, that’s not entirely true. Rebecka loves the store. She loves her family’s business so much that she plans to follow in her parents’ footsteps, career-wise.
“I’m planning to work here full-time, as soon as I graduate, and I plan to own this business some day, too,” she said confidently.
Rebecka said her parents are thinking of tying her open house to the business’ 65th anniversary celebration this summer.
Dean and Kim, who have three daughters that have practically grown up in the store, have kept the Sage’s butchering business going since 2007 and are happy to know at least one of their daughters wants to continue the tradition.
“All of our kids have enjoyed this place,” said Kim, who operates, according to her, “whatever Dean doesn’t do,” which includes accounting, catering and the retail side of the business. “Our kids are accustomed to this place so much that even our youngest would fall asleep right on the kill floor. It doesn’t phase our kids at all.”
When the Harters purchased the family business from Joyce and Donald Sage, business has been steadily growing.
“Business is pretty steady throughout the year,” Dean said, humbly. “We don’t really have a down time.”
Averaging about 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of processed meat each day, the Harters and their staff of 10 workers have the place humming every single day of the week, taking in cattle, hog and — during the hunting season — deer.
“Since we bought this place, it has grown each year,” Dean said. “Come hunting season, we have to shut down the beef and pork processing and just do deer for like a month. It gets that busy.”
Between 600 and 800 deer are usually processed within a three-week period at Sage’s, according to Dean.
Kim said Sage’s has an enormous clientele of local farmers for the meat processing business as well as devoted customers spread throughout Michigan that enjoy Sage’s retail business, which offers not only meat but also jerky rub, barbecue sauces and other specialty condiments.
“We have customers from Rockford, Grant, Grayling and even from the U.P.,” she said. “One lady from Holland comes up once a month. She visits family in the area and always makes a stop in to the store.”
After 64 years and three changes of ownership, the company still bears the last name of its original owners, Donald and Wanda Sage, who started the business — then called Sage’s Meat Locker — in 1948.
The Sages first operated business in a building behind where the old Jorgensen’s grocery store is on M-57.
“The meat business was downstairs and I guess there was a dance hall upstairs in that building,” Dean said.
At that time, World War II had ended while the Cold War was just heating up. Things at home were getting interesting, as well.
In West Michigan, the first upright freezer was introduced by Gibson Refrigeration, which began a change in the way businesses like’s Sage’s operated. The ability to store meat and frozen goods in homes spelled the end of such things as meat lockers.
During those days, customers would purchase lockers at the meat processing businesses, and were given a key so they could store either meat they just bought or fresh vegetables and fruits they may have grown at home.
Sage’s still has a few meat lockers but mostly for nostalgic purposes.
Today, with the addition of its catering business and up-to-date processing machines, the Harters and their staff keep one thing traditional — customer satisfaction.
“We try and stay versatile and keep the same prices for our farmers,” Kim said. “We try and avoid drastic changes. Our biggest thing is being consistent, and I think that’s why we have a lot of people always returning.”
“I think, with everyone more aware of what they’re eating now, more and more people are weary of buying processed meat. Smaller places, like here, I think people are more trusting in what kind of meat we are putting out.”
The long-time customers come back not just for the meat but also for the camaraderie of the staff, including the previous owners.
“The previous owners, Roger and Joyce Sage, still work here,” Dean said. “They are retired still come here every day, except when they’re on vacation, which is where they are now. The customers love to see both of them.”
As the meat processing business evolves and additions to the store come (the Harters are working on installing a sign that can be seen from Lafayette Street), Kim said Sage’s Meat Processing will always stand firm on at least one thing.
“We don’t want to be a grocery store,” she said. “We want to always be known as meat specializers.”
Sage’s is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The store is at 9189 Sage Drive in Greenville. Call (616) 754-6380 for more information.