Jim says, “This has been a great community to grow up in and to raise my family in. No one person can take credit for the success of a business. It takes the blessing of God, hard work, and the dedication of faithful employees, which we have had over the years.”
After a major fire in 2007, the plant was once again doubled in size by adding new coolers and freezers, additional production and storage areas, new offices and a new and greatly expanded retail store.
In 2001 a 16,000 square foot addition and remodel more than doubled the production area and added two loading docks, employee break room and bathrooms. In 2002 the retail store and front offices were remodeled.
Byron Center Locker changed its name to Byron Center Meats in 1991. The change was brought about by the loss of identity to the younger generation who did not associate meat with “locker plant.” More land was purchased to the east of the plant in anticipation of future growth.
The tradition continued as Jim and Ruth’s four children also grew up working in the plant, with the oldest son, Steve, now part owner and President and youngest son, Doug, the Business Manager.
In 1984 a new opportunity opened up for Byron Center Locker…supplying the food service industry with fresh cut steaks to be distributed to hotels, restaurants and institutions. That meant going from a state-inspected to a federal-inspected plant. To accomplish this meant a very extensive remodel and the purchase of new and larger processing and packaging equipment. As this part of the business grew it required another remodel in 1986 and again in 1988, which doubled the production area. A project that started in 1984 by delivering meat in the trunk of a car has grown to delivering in semi trailers and production of up to 55,000 steaks and thousands of pounds of ground beef in a week.
In 1966 Gerald sold the business to his oldest son, Jim, and Jim’s wife Ruth, while Gerald went into politics, becoming the Byron Township Supervisor. By this time space was a problem, and in 1968 an addition doubled the size of the building. In 1983 a new freezer was added and the existing one was made into added cooler and production space. A sausage room and smoke house were also added at this time.
By the time they were ready to start the project, someone had already started building a locker plant in Moline. That led them to Byron Center, where they purchased a lot for $300 and built Byron Center Locker Plant, which opened for business in April 1946. The plant had a total of 650 lockers that were rented for $1 per month. The plant also had a cooler where farmers could bring their beef and pork to be cut and packaged for 4 cents per pound and stored in their frozen food locker. It wasn’t long before they were also packaging fresh meat cuts to be sold to the public from fresh meat cases.
Gerald and Gert had six children and this could truly be called a family business as all six worked in the plant from time to time sweeping the floor, etc. The business would not be the size or success it is today had it not been for all the hard work and the long hours, days and nights put in by the whole family. This business also provided employment to many community people over the years; they too had a part in its success in serving the people of Byron Center and the surrounding community.
It wasn’t too long after being in business that the invention of the home freezer was introduced. This had the prophets of doom forecasting the death of locker plants. In reality, it was the best thing that could have happened as all those home freezers needed to be filled with beef and pork, which was processed at the locker plants.
In 1945 Gerald and Gert Sytsma decided they would like to build a locker plant in the town of Moline, Michigan, where they were living. When they shared their dream with their parents, looking for support, it was not found. It was considered too much money for an unproven business. They were not discouraged, however, and continued to follow their dream until they received financial backing.
A new business opportunity was sweeping across America in the early forties. They were places where you could store meat, vegetables and fruit in your own rented, frozen food storage locker. These businesses became known as locker plants.