Eleven Oaks Farms opens retail store to offer local products that enhance its Wagyu beef

Cris Collingwood//May 16, 2022

Eleven Oaks Farms opens retail store to offer local products that enhance its Wagyu beef

Cris Collingwood//May 16, 2022

Mallie Shuster, Eleven Oaks Farms, stands in the farms new retail space stocked with his farm’s beef and pork and products from other local businesses – PHOTO/PROVIDED

A Cumberland County farm family that raises Wagyu beef counts on its quality standards and work ethic to meet the public’s needs. 

That work ethic is now pointing the Shuster family to join with other local small businesses to bring high quality products to one shop at the family’s Eleven Oaks Farms, Newville. 

Mallie Shuster said the idea “is to be a curator of high-quality goods that are in some way related to beef and pork.” Those goods, he said, will come from Pennsylvania operations. 

Eleven Oaks Farms was born out of the company’s need for space when its construction company grew and the family needed to store straw, which they used for high voltage electrical rebuilds, he said. 

“We would have other people farm the land while we had space to store the straw. It kept the costs down,” he said.  

About 10 years ago, the family decided they wanted to get into farming and since they had the land, they started raising Wagyu cattle. “We took pride in taking the land and making it productive again,” he said. The herd has grown to around 600 cattle and the family is raising pigs as well since “commercial pork has gone bland,” he said. 

The operation employs about 10 people and Shuster said he hopes with the new endeavor, that number will grow. 

Wagyu beef takes more time to care for to produce the product people are looking for. “Commercial farms grow cows big and fast with low fat using the cheapest feed. We breed and feed to produce marbled meat that has a beautiful color to it,” he said. “We care for the health and quality of our animals.” 

That business led them to supply restaurants and catering businesses with high-quality beef. But in the first quarter of 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “the restaurants were in a goofy place. We didn’t know what was going on day to day, but we wanted to support them,” he said. “At the same time, we needed to keep our doors open.” 

The Shusters shifted from a business-to-business focus to more retail. “It started with you call us and we will deliver. That got all of this rolling,” he said. 

Shuster set up space on the farm for a retail shop and wanted to bring more people in. “Our product speaks for itself, and we knew there were others out there like us, just not beef,” he said. “We were looking for family-owned businesses making high quality products. These are not huge corporations, but they have a work ethic and grow and learn as they go.” 

The shop, he said, is not a grocery store, but will offer products that work together. “I need to know what is on my shelves and that the products have been thought about. They need to meet my quality standards,” he said. 

The 15-foot by 40-foot shop will offer things like dressings and marinades, seasonings, mustards and barbeque sauces, infused honey, jerky, chips and candy as well as buckwheat pancake mixes and maple syrup.  

“I talk to people and find out what their story is,” he said. “I want to know how they got into their business. People have a lot of pride in what they do because they are close to it. They are grounded in values and are excited to work with us because we’re on a personal level.” 

Shuster said he is adding products slowly and introducing them at the time of year it makes sense. “I don’t want things sitting on the shelves for long periods so I will bring them in when it’s appropriate,” he said. “The challenge is not to branch out too fast.” 

He used the buckwheat pancake mix as an example. “I wouldn’t introduce this in May when people aren’t looking to make pancakes, but I’ll look at August or September.” 

Shuster said his goal is to be a business where he can tell you everything about the products, so he visits the businesses and learns about them. “When customers ask me about a product, I tell you about it and you know what it really is,” he said. 

The model for the shop is not a co-op, but a retail store. “Being a wholesaler lets me work with these people and help them succeed,” he said. 

“I like the idea of providing this for people who don’t have a store presence,” he said. “They get to be on my store shelves, and everything becomes greater than the sum of the parts.” 

The space, while small, is not full yet. “You’re not going to get lost in here,” he said. “We’re still building inventory focusing on quality over quantity.” 

People, he said, have a desire to shop local. “Our recognition of this trend and our desire to be committed to people who want to maintain their destiny of creating their own product really led us to this,” he said. 

He sees the family’s role expanding to offer corporate gifting and bundles. “We can pull in vendors and build a stronger value proposition. We are not low cost, so we attract people with taste and preferences. I look for products that provide units of satisfaction commensurate with what they paid,” he said 

Shuster said he hopes to be able to reinvest in the farm operation with the retail expansion. “We want to reinvest in the facility to bring more processing here. That will allow us to employ more people and have more control over the operation,” he said. 

“You’ve got to be different to be successful. It may be more work, but it differentiates the brand,” he said. “We decided to be the change we want to see and our partners are the same.”