Whenever Shane and Tanya Flowers sell their locally raised meat at the Yellowstone Valley Farmer’s Market, shoppers invariably ask when they’re planning to open a Billings storefront.

The new Ranch House Meat Co. store at 13th Street West and Grand Avenue is the newest way that the owners of Project Meats are accommodating the wishes of loyal customers, while seeking new opportunities to grow and diversify their business.

“We’ve been researching this for more than a year and a half,” Tanya said. “The majority of our meat is local. It comes from Project Meats,” a packing plant at 6608 Highway 312.

The couple bought the packing house seven years ago. About three years ago they added a retail section, which has been growing.

The new specialty meat market in the site of the former Quizno’s sandwich shop in the Evergreen Midtown mall, offers fresh, frozen and smoked beef, pork and lamb products.

“Shane’s idea is to make this the candy store of the meat world,” Tanya said.

With a slogan, “Local People Selling Local Meat,” Ranch House Meat Co. is part of the local-food movement. More consumers are shopping for food that's raised close to home.

A cooler at the back of the store, dubbed “Bacon-opolis,” is stocked with a dozen kinds of bacon. One specialty, beef bacon, is smoked, cured beef brisket that resembles traditional bacon, except that it comes from a different critter.

“Beef bacon is quite lean,” Tanya said.

Another cooler displays varieties of house-made smoked sausage, bratwurst, meat snacks and summer sausage.

“Right now we are doing a lot of smoked brats. We have more than 20 flavors of those,” she said. “I was shooting to be the Baskin Robbins of sausage.”

One of the fun bratwurst flavors is one called Caleb’s Creation. The brat, named after their 12-year-old son, includes pepperoni and pickles. Pepperoni and other ready-to-eat meat snacks are also available.

Project Meats specializes in dry-aged beef, a traditional type of finishing that enhances flavor and tenderness. After slaughter, the beef carcass hangs in a cooler for 10 to 14 days.

Natural enzymes in the meat break down connective tissue, resulting in beef that’s more tender and flavorful.

Dry aging was common when urban neighborhoods and small towns had their own butcher shops. But now that industrial-scale operations have dominated the packing industry, most beef is cut, vacuum-packed and shipped within 24 hours of slaughter, in a process known as wet aging.

Cuts of beef are portioned into steaks or roasts, then vacuum packed to eliminate leakage for the trip home.

You want to be sure your hamburger is fresh? Tanya will grind it for you while you wait.

Ranch House Meat Co. doesn’t offer on-site dining, but deli meats, warm bratwurst and pulled pork and beef will be offered for customers to take home, she said.

Renovation started almost immediately after the sandwich shop closed in the middle of March. The grand opening was April 18.

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