VIRGINIA — Good news for steak, sausage and roast enthusiasts across the Range — F & D Meats will be around for many years to come. The popular shopping spot on Virginia's Eighth Street South has a new owner, Joseph B. Walls, and his goal "is to provide exactly what everyone who has ever shopped at F & D has come to know and expect," he told the Mesabi Tribune. "Our advertisement has been 'New Ownership, Same Everything Else!'" And another, "Come for the Meat, Stay for Everything Else!"
The 53-year-old International Falls native found out about F&D from a friend at the Natural Harvest Food Co-op shortly after he and wife Tina and their four children, Dorothy, 15, Anna, 13, Peter, 11, and Naomi, 4, moved to Virginia. "I bought some steak from F & D and told my wife all about it. We were extremely happy to have found such a place right here in town."
Walls said he has never seen such support behind a local business. "It is incredible, encouraging and so very appreciated. I would have never dreamed of this even a year ago, but here we are stepping up to the plate and filling a Paul Bunyan-size pair of boots!"
Walls, who studied at Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D., and Rainy River Community College in International Falls, and graduated from Concordia University in St. Paul in 2005 with an education major and math minor, has extensive work experience. "From warehouses to Lyman Lumber in Chanhassen, I also spent nearly 10 recent years at a Co-op Grocery store in St. Paul, working in the meat department, as well as bulk buyer and grocery manager." Most recently Walls, was the produce manager at Natural Harvest Food Co-op. "Though there are obvious differences between produce and meat, the perishable nature of each product makes them somewhat similar departments to run from a manager's standpoint." Specialty items such as in-house smoked bacon, beef jerky, beef sticks, porketta "are what make F & D a unique and community favorite shop."
Walls said he had received "a news feed posting that F & D was selling and closing for good by the end of the year if no buyer was found." Owners Tom O'Bryan and Todd Schaefbauer had said in a Mesabi Tribune story in October it was time for them to retire, after 40 some years, and not for lack of business. F & D Meats had been started in the 1960s by Fred Weiss and Damian Schaefbauer, thus the F & D.
Walls said he asked his wife if they should buy the business, to which she replied, "With what?" They then contacted a friend, Scott Zak, in the St.Paul area who is an investor and Zak "easily saw the legacy of the store and the viability of the business." A mutual friend and fellow investor Kevin Gartland was contacted, and they "began the process of making the offer and Tom and Todd gave us the nod! I spent a few days throughout December familiarizing myself with the daily routine of the store and doing some training, and then we signed papers on January 4. I have since spent every day there!" He said continuing a successful business is made possible by "the amazing and loyal staff who have stayed on — Dave Elsner, Bernie Russo, Deb Andrews and Lynnae Fickas as well as Todd Schaefbauer, who agreed to stay on for two months to train Daryl Kunnari, our new additional full-time meat cutter."
Walls has plans to do some light renovations. "The building has stood strong over the past nearly 50 years of business, and we want to ensure that it can continue another 50 and beyond. With some wonderful help from our friends at IRRRB, we might be able to begin those as early as this year."
The meat department, "the backbone of the business, will remain unchanged and strong as ever," he said. The produce and grocery departments may see some new products, and the test of time will help determine "what to keep and what to keep trying on." There may be gift and specialty items especially around the holidays, Walls said.
He added that the business "would not be sustainable if not for the patronage, loyalty and welcoming smiles and words of every single person who comes through the door. I thank you all." Walls regards it as an honor and said, "I look forward to meeting and serving you for many years to come!"