The old song says, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.” The same is true of Elma Locker and Grocery, a one-stop shop for its small northeast Iowa community.

The state-inspected locker has a thriving hot lunch counter and bustling catering business. Offerings extend beyond fresh beef and pork cuts to include a wide variety of processed products such as brats, meat sticks, sausage, jerky and bacon.

And then there’s the grocery store. Fully stocked with everyday essentials, it’s the only one within 25 miles of town. They also provide wholesale products, like meat and liquor, to local bars and restaurants. 

These activities and others help explain why Elma Locker has expanded its building five times since opening in 2006.

Local demand

“The grocery store has always been part of the business,” said TJ Granahan, co-owner of the facility. “There is a lot of local demand for what we offer. We also have a good reputation in the community. That’s something we’re proud of.”

In the early 2000s, Elma was hit with a double blow when both the local grocery store and the original Elma Locker closed in the same year. Co-founders Roger and Joe Meirick, cousins who farmed in the area and saw the need in Elma, decided to buy the shuttered locker and add a grocery store to the business. 

Overcoming challenges

Granahan bought into Elma Locker in 2023, after working for the Meiricks for more than a decade. He and his wife, Amanda, purchased Joe Meirick’s 50% stake, allowing Joe to retire. 

The plan was that Roger Meirick would stay on for a few more years, teaching Granahan the management side of the business. 

Unfortunately, Roger Meirick passed away unexpectedly in May 2023, just a few months after Granahan took over Joe’s portion of the business.

The Granahans have spent much of the last year taking a crash course on the business side of the locker. 

Prior to becoming a partner, Granahan was general manager of the production side but had limited knowledge of the bookkeeping and human resources sides of the business. 

Karen, Roger Meirick’s wife, has remained to assist with human resources, while Amanda Granahan is gaining hands-on experience in processing and production.

Pictured above: TJ Granahan, co-owner of Elma Locker and Grocery, shows off a pack of his award-winning beef sticks. This year, the locker brought home four awards — two first place and two second place — from the Iowa Meat Processors Association. PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT

Smokehouse specialists

The locker’s two smokehouses are a major contributor to the business, allowing further processing of meat products like beef sticks, sausages, bacon and jerky. These award-winning offerings are a major draw.

Granahan said the original smokehouse dates back to 2006, when the Meiricks reopened the locker. The second smoker was added about a decade ago. Last year, Elma Locker was awarded funds for a new smokehouse from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to further expand its processing capacity. 

Granahan said he’s still trying to figure out how to fit a third smoker into the existing space. He suspects the original unit will get moved out of the main processing facility, but he wants it to be available as a back-up or to expand production capacity as needed.

Secret recipes

The driver behind the popularity of smoked products is the recipes, many of which date back to the Meiricks’ ownership or even before. 

Several flavors have also been added by Granahan. He highlighted the bourbon bacon, a newer and very popular flavor, that marinates in Jim Beam bourbon prior to smoking. 

Another unique item is the “all-in breakfast” sausage, a fully cooked sausage patty that includes eggs and cheese. “All you need to do is throw it in the pan for a couple minutes,” Granahan said. 

The grocery store expanded its protein selection a couple years ago, adding frozen seafood, which Granahan said has been a great complement to the fresh meat sales.

Award-winning products

This year, Elma Locker and Grocery brought home four awards for its processed products from the Iowa Meat Processors Association’s annual competition. 

Granahan was awarded grand champion in smoked turkey and whole muscle jerky categories and reserve grand champion for meat snack sticks and center cut smoked pork loin.

“I take a lot of pride in this,” Granahan said. “It validates we’re heading in the right direction as a business. Plus, the competition gave us an opportunity to really showcase the best of what we have to offer.”

Custom processing

In addition to meat for its own counter, Elma processes whole and half beef and pork for local farmers. 

“We have a list of guys willing to sell a whole beef or pork. Just give us a call,” Granahan said.

Granahan also accepts wild game for processing. Typically in Iowa, it’s deer during the hunting season, but he has seen all sorts of carcasses hit the processing floor. 

“I have guys who hunt elk out west and bring them back for us to process. I’ve even processed bear meat before,” Granahan said.

Looking ahead

As Granahan grows more confident in managing the locker, he is contemplating the future prospects for his family.

The Granahans have four children, ages 7, 8, 12 and 19. 

“We’re a family business,” he said. “I’d love to build something that can be passed on to my kids if they want it.”

As Elma Locker and Grocery continues to find innovative ways to meet community needs, it seems very likely there will be plenty for the next generation to manage someday.