Welch’s Meats on Bass Road, which opened on Feb 27, 2006, has been a Middle Georgia institution for nearly 15 years now. The store was originally owned and operated by Jim and Nancy Welch. During their time running the store, Welch’s developed a loyal customer base. Mr. Welch decided to retire nearly two years back at the age of 64 and rather than dissolve the business, ended up selling it to Forsyth natives, Jeff and Sheila Stark.
“I’d been working for the same company for 31 years and it became so bureaucratic and corporate-America that I just had to get out. I really wanted to work for myself. That’s what initially gave me the idea to buy Welch’s. I knew Jim and spoke with him. He said he was planning to retire and just close the place up. I was like ‘hey, don’t do that. Let me think about it. Maybe I’ll buy this place from you.’ Because I saw the potential that the place had.”
Jeff started working at the store on nights and weekends under Mr. Welch. He spent over a year learning the ins and outs of the meat business. “I prayed a lot and felt that God wanted me to make the change. So, almost two years ago on the dot, I bought the place from him.”
Stark bought the business on Sept. 1, 2018. Before working under Mr. Welch, Stark had zero experience working in the meat industry. “It was initially more time consuming than I thought. I worked a lot of late nights and early mornings. Even so, it was a welcome change. I really enjoyed the work and talking to everyone. I’ve been able to meet so people in the community through the business.”
Since taking over, Stark has used the business for a variety of charity work. “We work with the rescue mission downtown a lot and help feed the homeless. Me and my guys here will smoke up some Boston-butts, make some green beans and mac n’ cheese and take it down to feed it to them.”
Welch’s has given several smoked Boston-butts to fundraisers. “We recently did one with Friends United. There was a young man, a senior in high school, who dove into a swimming pool and was paralyzed from the neck down. We sold I think 500 fundraising tickets for him and his family.” Jeff says he gives to the community so much because it’s God’s way. “The Lord has blessed my business so I’m able to bless others in turn.”
While many small local businesses have been hit hard by Covid-19, Stark says miraculously his sales have gone up. “I’d say our business has increased 30% to 50%. During the initial outbreak, a lot of the big grocery stores weren’t able to get meat. Meanwhile, I never had any problems from my suppliers. They always came through. So, even during the national food shortages, I had as much chicken, pork and beef as anybody wanted. I thought Covid-19 was going to kill us but it wound up being a blessing in disguise.”
Stark claims that Welch’s business doubled in the months of April, May and June. He says things have slowed down a bit but that they’re still 50% above where they were before Coronavirus. “People started coming because we were the only place in town with meat and they’ve kept coming back because of our quality.”
All of Welch’s steaks are upper 2/3’s to prime. All of their beef is hormone and antibiotic free. Most of the store’s meat is grass fed and free-range. “Our prices aren’t quite as low as the supermarkets, but the premium quality is so much better. Our meats just on another level.” The store grinds its own ground chunk, which is rare in today’s meat industry.
“We do the whole process. Our butchers take a chuck roll and mix it with our New York strip filet and rib-eye trimmings. No other place in Central Georgia offers it that I’m aware of. Publix, Kroger and all these supermarkets don’t grind their meat. They buy it already made.” Welch’s also makes its own sausage in house. “We have six or seven different kinds of smoked sausage and fresh sausage. We buy Boston-butts, grind them up, put seasoning in them, case them up and smoke them. Once you’ve eaten it, there’s no substitute.” Welch’s sources its meat from three different suppliers.
“It’s three companies who actually own their own cattle. One is a company called Brave Heart, which is based in the Midwest. Because they own the cattle, they’re in charge of feeding them and making sure they’re properly taken care of. It means better quality control. It’s nothing like those factory-farms where cows are all bunched together and injected with steroids.”
Stark says the store’s biggest sellers are a tossup between the smoked butts, the smoked brisket, the smoked sausage and the smoked wings. “All four of those we sell crazy amounts of. But we also sell a lot of our pre-cooked fresh meats.” Welch’s also does a lot catering.
“That actually wasn’t something Welch’s offered until I took over. We’ve done several weddings and company parties. We catered an event at Geico that over 300 people attended. It’s an aspect of the business that’s really blossomed.” Stark says you can expect to see him grilling out at the Mary Persons games this fall.
“I’m actually signed up to feed the football team four times this season. I grill at the games through my Church’s outreach ministry, though hopefully people will want to come visit the store after trying the meat.”
“Jim and Nancy created this great business. I kept the store in their name; the name everyone knew it as. I like to think that we’ve just picked up the torch and carried on their legacy. And perhaps, just gone a couple notches further and made it a little bit bigger.”
Welch’s Meats is a family-run business operated by Jeff, his two daughters Madison and Juliann as well as Corey Taylor and Dave Musgrove who are very knowledgeable and ready to serve customers’ needs. The store is located at 1687 Bass Road. Their hours of operation are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon through Fri, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sat and closed on Sunday. To reach their business, you can call the store at (478) 474-7351.