F & D Meats, an Iron Range  institution, ending 50-plus year run

F&D Meats owners Tom O'Brien and Todd Schaefbauer pose behind the counter at their shop in Virginia Friday afternoon. The two long term owners have announced their upcoming retirement.

VIRGINIA — A fan of F & D Meats posted on Facebook, "I love this place! Good selection, great meats, and very reasonable prices. Old school neighborhood butcher shop."

That old school neighborhood butcher shop known the Range over is closing its doors at the end of the year. Not for lack of business at the popular stop on Eighth Street South. Owners Tom O'Bryan and Todd Schaefbauer told the Mesabi Tribune it's time for them to retire, after 40 some years behind the meat counter.

They're looking for a buyer for the bustling business described in a Facebook post as "best meat market for smoked fish. Love this place. We drive up to the Cities from Las Vegas, Nevada, every year and make sure we make the 4-hour trip up North for smoked salmon to take back to Vegas! Great customer service, so friendly and helpful! Worth the 8 hours of driving for sure!"

F & D Meats was started in the 1960s by Fred Weiss and Damian Schaefbauer, thus the "F" and "D." Damian Schaefbauer, who died in 1991 at age 50, started out as a butcher at the old Buhler meat market on Third Avenue North in Virginia, then he and Weiss started F & D, eventually locating at its present site in 1968. Damian and his brother Dick Schaefbauer ran the business.

As for the present owners, Tom O'Bryan started shortly after his senior year. He said he had asked about a job at F&D at his high school graduation party, but was told they weren't hiring at that time. But shortly thereafter a call came from an F&D owner. "I've been there ever since," O'Bryan said, and that was more than 40 years ago.

Schaefbauer said he started at age 10 clearing tables and washing dishes at the Royal Cafe adjacent to the Royal Bar owned by his parents Joan and the late Tony Schaefbauer. So it's been 50 years, said Schaefbauer, age 60. "I was used to hard work. Dad was like, 'You wanna eat, you're gonna work.'"

Both owners agree that "we would certainly like to see somebody buy the business." They have had showings. And they said of the current pandemic situation, "It's been an exceptional year" for the meat business. People are eating at home and doing a lot more cooking.

One key to the lasting success for the business has been the variety it offers. O'Bryan said they have "three kinds of polish sausage, four beef sticks, 10 kinds of brats, three beef jerky and eight flavors of bacon — Cajun, pepper, brown sugar and cinnamon, apple, jalapeno, porketta, chipotle and regular." It can be hard to compete with the big-box stores and without specialties "we couldn't survive."

They talked about meat prices — and how they "haven't increased that much" in comparison to some other consumer goods. Schaefbauer said, "My father in the '70s bought a new car for $3,000. Now it would be $50,000."

A Mesabi Daily News F&D ad in 1977 — 43 years ago — showed a Wilson boneless ham for $1.89 per pound, porketta $1.29 a pound, a 30-pound box of pork chops for $20.99 and whole beef loins of T-bones, Porterhouse and sirloins for $1.19 a pound.

In earlier days F&D would get sides of beef delivered. "Now everything comes boxed, 60 to 90 pounds of meat in a box," O'Bryan said. New cuts of meat such as beef tri-tips and teres major and flank steak have become popular thanks to the Food Channel. "We would grind flank steak for hamburger," O'Bryan said. "You don't see many bone-in roasts anymore."

O'Bryan and Schaefbauer said they have customers stop in from all over the United States — in the store is displayed a map with push pins marking where customers live, and they said a fellow from Ireland comes there each summer.

They have mixed emotions as they talk about their retirement. "I'm really looking forward to it," O'Bryan said. "Dealing with the vendors, they become friends. But it's time to move on." And they will miss their loyal employees — Dave Elsner, Deb Andrews, April Kurn, Bernadette Russo, Judy Elkington, Lynnae Fickas and Phyllis O'Bryan (mother of Tom O'Bryan).

Schaebauer said of the customers upon hearing the news of the F&D closing, "Most aren't very happy we're closing. They're happy for us retiring." O'Bryan said, "You get to know those people, watch their kids grow. It's been a good ride. I made a living and a lot of friends."

And Schaefbauer said, "Wherever you go, you run into people you know. It's been a lot of work, but it's been an interesting run."

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