Jones Meat & Locker invites public to September 16 event marking eight decades
By David Blanchette
A multi-generational business that started in the basement of a Jacksonville home is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
Jones Meat & Locker was founded in 1943 when Paul and Rose Jones raised some hogs, slaughtered them, sold the meat in town, and decided to try doing that as a business.
Now, 80 years later, their grandson Terry Jones and his wife Marcy invite the community to commemorate eight decades in business during a special celebration on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to noon at Jones Meat & Locker, 2108 E. State St. Guests can enjoy some award-winning Jones bratwurst that will be grilled for visitors that day, and see displays highlighting the business’ history.
That history is a classic story of a family business that has been enthusiastically passed down from generation to generation. It all began in a house on Sandusky Street just north of Jacksonville.
“My grandparents built a processing room in their basement and a slaughterhouse about 100 yards from the house,” Terry Jones said. “They would slaughter the animals and chill them down in the slaughterhouse, then they had a big rail and they would hang them and run them all the way down that rail into the basement and cut them up down there.”
Jones remembers visiting the in-home meat business as a youngster.
“They had a little fresh meat case down there, and I can remember as a child I would carry out groceries for the older ladies and they would give me a dime and I’d head straight to the soda machine,” Jones said. “They also gave me a little dull knife and I would pretend like I was cutting meat.”
Terry Jones’ father Charlie joined the business while he was in high school, and he and his wife, Doris, later became the owners after the operation moved to a different location.
“In the early 1960s they came out with meat inspection rules for the whole country and we were told you can’t have a meat processing business in your basement,” Jones said. “You can’t run the beef down a rail out in the open air. So they started looking for another location.”
Jones Meat & Locker purchased their current location on East State Street in 1968 from Don Lakin, who also had a meat business in Murrayville. Charlie and Doris Jones expanded the business in 1977 with a new processing room and a retail sales area.
“I grew up 50 yards away from my grandparents, I followed my dad around when he ran the business, and decided that was what I wanted to do,” Terry Jones said. “So I went to the University of Illinois and got a degree in meat science and then decided to come back. I could have gotten a job in a bigger place but I decided to come home and work there, and I enjoyed it.”
Meanwhile, his studies at the U of I had another benefit – he met fellow student Marcy there.
“His house on campus and my house would have exchanges. His was mainly an agriculture house but mine was not, I was an art major,” Marcy Jones said. “We got to know each other, and a year later we got married.”
The Jones family business was a new experience for Marcy Jones.
“I grew up in a family that didn’t hunt, we lived on a lake and we would even throw the fish back,” she said. “So it was about as opposite as you can get from being married to a butcher. I’ve gotten very used to it, but I still don’t go back in the back when certain things are happening.”
Terry and Marcy Jones purchased Jones Meat & Locker from Terry Jones’ parents in 1992 and have been operating it ever since.
“When I first came back we were just starting to develop the retail and we started to offer products like marinated meats, bratwurst and jerky,” Terry Jones said. “Then we started deer processing and that just bloomed, it really got to be big time. That helped us to buy extra pieces of equipment we wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.”
Jones Meat & Locker customer favorites continue to be hamburger, high-end steaks, butterfly pork chops and bratwurst. They do custom work for several area farmers, some of whom raise grass-fed beef or beefalo, a cattle-buffalo hybrid. Jones meat is not like the typical meat you see in a grocery store.
“When we do it, it’s not like buying a loaf of bread where everything is cut the same way and each loaf of bread weighs the same. Each beef and hog is a different weight and different body type,” Jones said. “Somebody will ask how many t-bones and how much hamburger are they going to get. Well, that depends on how big the beef was and how you want your hamburger, steaks and roasts to be cut.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity for Jones Meat & Locker as meat shortages caused new customers to seek them out.
“One of the things that people really realized during the pandemic, when they did try our meat, it has a quality to it that you just don’t get at a grocery store,” Marcy Jones said. “Usually once we get a customer, we don’t lose them. They really like our products.”
The Jones way has garnered the business numerous awards over the years. Jones Meat & Locker won the best beef jerky recently at the Illinois State Fair largely due to the efforts of long-time Jones employee Marty Cockerill. Terry Jones still hosts youth at the business who want to learn meat science as part of their 4-H or FFA involvement. These prizes and community involvement help Marcy Jones, who does the business’ advertising and publicity.
“When the winning products from the [Illinois] State Fair get sold at the Governor’s Sale of Champions, the money goes toward scholarships for meat science students at the University of Illinois,” Jones said. “Because Terry went through that program, it’s kind of a special thing for us.”
Jones Meat & Locker has had many long-term employees and both Terry and Marcy Jones consider them as family. The couple hope to eventually pass the business along to someone else so they can retire, but they won’t say who they might have in mind to take it over.
In the meantime, the Joneses are enjoying the family’s 80th year in business, and hope the public will join them in the celebration.
“We are here because of our customers, and truly appreciate their support these past eight decades,” Marcy Jones said.