Third-generation farmer Richard Bartlett says he has raised and processed pork since he was old enough to hold a bucket.
He owns and operates one of the top naturally raised, premium-grade Berkshire hog farms in the state, in the small town of Beverly, northwest of Salina. In January, he decided to work with his family to open a storefront in Topeka, where his son Thomas and Thomas’ wife, Lovella, live.
“Really, it was simply because I have a son that lives there and there’s more people than in Beverly,” Richard Bartlett said.
Lovella Bartlett is currently the sole employee at Grandpa Rich’s Pork, 724 S.W. Gage, where she oversees day-to-day operations and interacts with customers.
“I married into the hog business,” she said with a laugh. “Before this, I really didn’t know much about how it all worked.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Lovella sat inside the small store, quietly reading her Bible. Freezers line the walls of the shop, with their motors quietly humming in the background.
“It’s been pretty quiet lately,” she said, “but we’re hoping after the ribbon-cutting things pick up a little bit.”
With about two months in business under their belts, Grandpa Rich’s will celebrate a grand opening at 11 a.m. Wednesday with the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. Lovella said the store will have cured, smoked pork cubes and snack sticks to sample. Lovella compared the snack sticks to a Slim Jim, only thicker “and a lot better.” The snack sticks — and Grandpa Rich’s summer sausages — come in five flavors: regular, cheddar cheese, pepper cheese, jalapeno and jalapeno cheddar.
Lovella said the shop’s best seller is its bacon, which comes in thick slices or crispy. Grandpa Rich’s also offers a supply of large meats for smoking or barbecuing, such as shoulder, pork butt, ham and picnic roasts.
With a name like Grandpa Rich’s, the business embodies what is meant by the “locally owned” experience. It is family oriented, based on Christian values and advertises honest, affordable prices for a quality product.
In addition to pork, Richard Bartlett has partnered with Munson Angus Farms to sell its all-natural prime angus beef out of Junction City.
Bartlett said the process of raising and butchering quality meat isn’t as simple as it may seem. So many factors go into the meat, including how it is raised, the feed used and even how it is butchered.
“People laugh, but it’s important that the hogs’ blood isn’t irate when they’re brought to slaughter,” he said. “We deliver them calmly to Clay Center (Locker Plant) processing, and if they’re not calm, you won’t get as good a meat.”
Also important is the marbling in the meat, similar to that of a good steak. Bartlett said the marbling in pork is important in determining its taste, quality and tenderness. Bartlett’s pigs are grain-fed, pasture-raised and hormone-free. Conflict sometimes arises around a grain diet, Bartlett said, but the meat’s quality suffers without it.
“They’re not confined — open-grazed, and finding me with an injection needle in my hand would be a rare thing,” he said. “The hogs are just utilized that way. With Duroc and Berkshire hogs, you never see them in confinement or hot houses or a sow house — you just won’t see it. They do better out there on the dirt.”
Bartlett said he has raised hogs for the past 60 years because he loves what he does and likes seeing people appreciate his work and his product. He also sells show hogs to local 4-H kids. Last year, he said, 48 kids showed their hogs at fairs in 23 counties, and he loves getting their pictures and seeing their results.
Grandpa Rich’s Pork is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call (785) 478-5171 or visit the store’s Facebook page.