A Cut Above

Even though you’ll find “lil” in its name, there is nothing “little” about the Lil Butcher Shoppe at 1910 Broadway Drive in Hattiesburg. This old-fashioned butcher shop has been a mainstay providing a variety of hand-cut meats, smoked sausage, cheese and other specialty products to Pine Belt residents and others who have been driving in from across the region for the past 26 years.

Customers will also find a “little” bit of everything they might want or need for the perfect cookout at home, tailgating for their favorite sports team, a family holiday gathering or just a night at home with some good food.

Brothers Steve Dyar and David Lawson expanded their operation in May 2017 with a larger structure next door to the original storefront, which opened in 1991, with its wooden façade, green tin roof and front porch with rockers. Dyar’s son, Brian, now manages the day-to-day operations of the facility. When the new store opened May 7 of last year it ended an era for the business, but reopened with something bigger and better.

Lawson said they always intended to build a smaller building to process the sausage, but having learned that two heads is better than one when it comes to planning, they decided to go a different route.

“We didn’t ever want to lose the Lil Butcher Shoppe image and we’re not a chain grocery store or a big box store,” Lawson said. “We’re little butcher shop.” Deciding they were going about things the wrong way, they realized building a new, larger structure would be more user friendly, allowing more space in the back for a full kitchen, a full-size cutting room, as well as more room to tend to the days’ business. “Because over here it was tight; we were all friendly back there, but it was tight,” he laugh-ed. The new facility is homey and inviting with lights that aren’t real bright, but rather lighting that highlights their products.

 

Service with a smile

This old-fashioned butcher shop credits its customers for its success – one couple travels up from Mobile every three months to stock up and others who make a two- to three-hour drive from Louisiana on a monthly basis to get their Lil Butcher Shoppe fix.

The brothers say their goal is to provide customers with fresh, high-quality meat , while also serving up a heaping of friendly customer service. The business offers a wide selection of fresh beef, pork, and chicken that is cut and ground daily. For customers who don’t see what they are looking for, the brothers are quick to say they can custom order what you're looking for. They carry a full line of homemade smoked sausages and twice-baked stuffed potatoes, perfect complements to any meal. They also make their own  homemade crawfish pies, meatloafs, etouffee, stuffed chickens, stuffed pork chops, boudin, gumbo, Mardi Gras pasta sauce, crab-stuffed mushrooms, casseroles and much more. 

Getting started

Lawson explains Dyar served as the catalyst for the business. Dyar and his family were living in Jacksvonille, Fla., where Dyar, at the time, had been in the meat business a good 10 years. “He had retired from the Navy and met his wife, whose family owned a meat shop,” explains Lawson.

Having been born and raised in the Magnolia State, Dyar wanted to move his family  home, not knowing what he would do. “I was working at a gas station and dealt with people, and he knew the meat so we put our heads together and said, ‘Let’s open a meat shop,’” Lawson said.

The men got the ball rolling toward the end of 1990 and opened in June of the next year. Scrounging their savings together, Lawson said they bought a bunch of junk equipment, went down and found a cheap building right down the street the old Jerry’s Drive In, a couple of red lights down from their current location. And they opened up something that had disappeared years ago. Lawson explained the meat service industry had all evolved to grocery stores.

 “The old butcher shops, back in the day, there was one on every corner,” Lawson said. “Every mom and pop had a butcher shop and people were raised in the old-fashioned business. So, we brought the old-fashioned butcher shop back to Hattiesburg; there was no such thing at the time, just grocery stores.

 “There was a generation of people who didn’t even know how to purchase in a butcher shop, because they’d go down the meat aisles at the grocery store. They didn’t understand the concept, but mom and dads showed them.

“In our 26-27 years, we are actually generational selling to our customers,” Lawson explained. “We’re seeing the kid who used to hide under the counter while his mom shopped, now he’s buying with his wife. It’s really exciting. Our sisters, mom, everybody came by and bought a lot of meat because in the beginning we didn’t sell a lot. We didn’t have money for advertising, so…in the very beginning for a little bit of time we didn’t draw a check, but we ate good.”

It’s that beginning and the one-on-one relationships they’ve developed with each individual customer that keeps the customers coming in. “We’ve taught them the ropes on how to buy,  establishing that customer base one at a time,” Lawson said. “That’s how our business has evolved. As we got busier we just added a little bit more, when we could afford it. And a little bit more and a little bit more.”

He explained in the early years of the business the road out front was just two lanes. And as they witnessed expansion in the area, they saw a piece of property and knew it was a “go” for them.

In the earlier years they had tried to make a go of it elsewhere, including Petal. “Everybody was saying, ‘We need one in Petal, we need one in Petal,” so we actually went over there next to the Dollar General on Main Street,” Lawson said. “We spent everything we had and opened it up.” But a year later, the landlord, with whom they had a handshake agreement as far as the lease was concerned, passed away and his wife sold the building, forcing them to move.

It was at that time everybody told them to “Go West,” so they took the business west.

“And we were seeing the same faces at both places,” Lawson said. “We struggled in the beginning, but decided to bring it back to this side of town. We knew if we did a good job, people would come to us and would be faithful to us and that was how we got to here.”

And then it was time to add another generation. When Brian finished high school, he moved right in, his uncle explained. “He was so shy, he wouldn’t talk to anybody. Now, Brian totally runs the operation with me and his dad,” said Lawson. Brian’s stepping in only seems natural since he’s also been in the business most of his life, hanging out in his grandparents’ butcher shop when he was five or six.”

And he always went to work with his dad on Saturdays. “We didn’t keep Coke around the house, so that’s why I went to work with him on Saturdays. I got paid in Cokes.”

Brian said he tried college, “but it wasn’t for me. I realized after the first year of college that this is what I wanted to do.”

Lawson said he and his brother aren’t retired, “but anybody that watches us every day would say we are retired. We still like to show our faces day in and day out, but the actual daily management, we gave over to the younger ones.” Lawson has a daughter at the University of Southern Mississippi who is majoring in marketing and wants to get involved with the business, including some major upcoming plans.

the next big step

One of the business’ best sellers is its smoked sausage, which comes in 16 flavors, the most popular being pineapple. Their newest addition is blueberry, which is made from frozen fresh Mississippi blueberries they purchase in Poplarville.

Other flavors include pork, beef, maple, apple, sweet fire, green onion, andouille, Cajun, three-cheese, jalapeno and cheese, garlic and cheese and cheeseburger.

It’s these products which are leading the owners to take their next big step – going national with their sausages.

The men said they get calls or emails pretty much on a daily basis asking for sausage to be shipped. One of the most recent came from a lady in Alaska, who had visited family in the Hub City. She wanted to have some sausages shipped to her.

Requests have also come from Kentucky, California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere and come from military personnel who have spent time at Camp Shelby and rotated on to different bases across the United States.

“We’re very big on our military and give them a 10 percent discount, so we’ve always had the military coming in,” said Lawson. “Because of that when they get to their new destination, they call and say, ‘Hey, can I get you to send me some sausage?”

Currently they can’t, but that’s all about to change.

Lawson explained in order to ship across state lines, you have to be federally inspected. And the process is well underway for them to be able to do that.

Once they constructed the new facility, they were ready to build their dream – a sausage plant right there on the premisis, using the old facility as a processing plant.

“That worked out great for us and that’s the process we are in right now. Now that the holidays are over, we are going full speed ahead.”

Federal authorities have already been brought in and the business is HACC (Hazard Analysis and Critical Countrol Point) certified, which meals they have fulfilled the USDA’s requirements that help ensure the safety of meat, poultry and eggs, as well as hazardous control points. Lawson said they are certified on all of that, having attended classes at Mississippi State. Because these processes are already in place.

With the new year, things should move along quicker. They’ve already built a loading dock and have some others things up in the air.

“It’s going to be small in the beginning,” said Lawson, “but we’re going to develop thing as we have with our other business – one customer at a time, whether it’s online or in a warehouse where we can push our product there. We don’t want to get too big too fast. We just want to do it one at a time.”

The sausage shipping process should be complete and ready to roll within the first six months of the year, then sausage can be shipped overnight. “You know, people’s tastebuds are the same anywhere you go, so we’re very excited for it to open,” said Lawson. “It’s a big world out there and we just want to let people sample our product.”

In the beginning, their smoked sausages will be the only foods shipped. But there are some other in-house things they’ll be working on for their local customers.

A large, new kitchen was put in place, not so they can serve hot food to the public, but so they can make casseroles, breads, pastries and other food items to sell in the shop.

“We took several recipes from our wives, our grandmothers, aunts and others and put them together,” Lawson said. “We know it’s good because we eat it every holiday, so we’ve come up with their recipes (we can’t take credit for them), and we’ve put them out to the public. And so far, they are doing great and that helps us know our tastebuds weren’t lying to us.”

The men are constantly throwing out new ideas. “We sit in here on a daily basis and talk about things we’ve seen on television cooking channels,” said Lawson, who admits to watching every night.

Dyar is always the one telling them they are getting ahead of themselves, with his, “You can’t do what you’re doing now.”

The men admit that every day is something new and that’s what makes things exciting.

The new building has also helped create a lot of excitement. “But again, it’s all about our customers,” Lawson said. “We’ve watched them evolve with their family. ‘Hey, Mr. David, remember me? I’m the one who used to get under the counter.’”

“He’s the one who used to be this tall, but now he’s standing there with his wife and kids,” Lawson said. “What’s also great about it is they always know each one of us here as their butcher. You know, I don’t cut, but I’m always their butcher. But it’s just a great business. We’ve taken this philosophy we’ve got of serving the customer. We offer what a lot of the grocery stores have. You know, you can only cut up a cow so many ways, but we want to do it with a little bit of zing, that personal flavor we’ve got or that personable with the customer. We talk with them about their family, day in, day out and we love our customers. Everything is about our customers, because without them, we’re nothing.”

The business employees about 20, many which have been with the business for 20 years of more. “It’s like one big family.”

The busiest time of the year for the business is around the holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas. And while things can get hectic with a long line waiting to check out, the men admit things are fun when it’s that busy.  “People we see in line just seem happy, even if they have to wait just a little bit,

The team is currently working to come up with soups (potato, broccoli/cheddar), especially during cold weather months as well as some more casseroles. Currently they make green bean, sweet potato, baked potato, broccoli and cheese, sausage and cornbread dressing, chicken cornbread dressing, squash dressing and macaroni and cheese.

Employees serve as the test kitchen to help fine tune recipes before they get it down to a fine science and put it out in front of the public.

“We’re always looking for new ideas and willing to try something,” added Lawson. “We overwhelm ourselves sometimes, but we see all of this stuff, and to have some place where we can try it out is exciting.”

The business also sells a variety of turkeys and hams whether fresh, fried or smoked. Most of these are only available around the holidays. They also have a smoked brisket, custom smoked Boston butts, whole hogs, which they are getting reach to tackle and prime rib.

“We will custom cook your order,” said Brian. “We don’t per se go out and cater. Some people will call in their order, we’ll cook it here and take it to them to serve.” They also cook a variety of meats for wedding receptions.

They sell a variety of pickled salsas, which are locally made, as well as ornamental packages including cookie, cornbread and grits mixes. “It’s just something nobody else may have,” Lawson said.

They also sell eight to 10 cheeses that are sliced to order, including the old-fashioned red rind hoop cheese from Wisconsin. They are also making their own boudain, Italian sausage and bratwurst.

Behind their sausage, their biggest seller is steaks. They also have a variety of rubs, sauces and other items to enhance their products. They also carry some staple items, which assists their customers in not having to make an extra grocery store trip once they leave the butcher shop.

No matter what they are serving, selling or shipping, they want people to taste it and say, ‘Hey, they know what they are doing.’ That’ just makes us feel all good inside,” Lawson said. “Every where in this country there’s a product that everybody has that’s great. We want to offer the best of both worlds.”

The business is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

 

 

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