Cassie Lyman never planned to shovel snow on the opening day at her new store on Main Street, but a rancher never fears work.
And the family’s new venture, Lyman Ranches beef shop, at 410 W. Main St. Suite C, has heaped a lot onto her already full plate.
There’s working the ranch.
Then there’s processing the beef.
Making sure all the government boxes get checked.
Until finally, she can place the product in the hands of her growing cadre of devoted beef lovers.
“Our life is a ranch, and the ranch is our life,” she said to explain her commitment to finding a business plan that allows her to pass on a viable enterprise to her children.
Ranchers who grow out their cattle for market only make about 11 cents per dollar they invest, said Lyman, but once her family started selling direct, they see 60 cents returned for every dollar they spend.
But to bring product to market requires hours of labor, coordination, government hoops and commitment. She’s learned that the stony path to a dream may require finding Facebook friends, networking with restaurants, negotiating bureaucratic systems and ceaseless improvising.
But all those challenges can lead to open doors you never knew existed — so long as it’s a labor of love.
Moreover, her labor of love has not only helped her family — it may help her community by expanding the small but growing network of locally sourced food in restaurants and stores throughout Gila County. Along the way, the movement could energize Payson’s struggling Main Street by adding to the buzz created by businesses like the Payson Farmers Market, Duza’s Kitchen, The Oxbow Saloon and Grill and Macky’s restaurants.
Secret to Lyman beef
The Lyman Ranch beef has the benefits of both grass and grain finishing without the corporate touch.
“We start them on grass, but finish them on grain,” said Lyman as she pulls out a thick, porterhouse cut. “They get the best of both worlds. You want the grass-fed beef (and) you want the sweetness and inter-muscular marbling from grain finishing.”
She noted that strictly grass-fed beef has a denser and dryer consistency, while beef fed grain for a longer time creates too much fat throughout the meat. Many cannot stomach all that fat.
Nor does Lyman rely on hormones and other additives that feed lots use to get cattle to put on weight as quickly as possible. Customers worried about all the additives used in feed-lot cattle have provided her with a growing market.
In addition, the Lymans give their T-bones and chorizo sausage that personal touch.
On Lyman’s social media accounts, she posts pictures and information about ranch life. Lyman noted that customers say they’ve been following those posts and cite it as the reason they want to try her beef.
“That is so cool to me,” said Lyman.
She also posts pictures of her customers on the store wall.
“This is our beef family,” she said, pointing to Star Valley Town Council member Andy McKinney in a picture holding aloft a prime rib he bought for Christmas dinner.
That personal touch has also spurred relationships with local outlets such as Duza’s Kitchen restaurant, LovEms-Bikery, Back to Basics health food store and Bruzzi Vineyards.
Labor part of the love
Lyman is amazed at the journey — full of gambles and improvisations that have led her organically to this unexpected new life.
The Lymans moved to Tonto Basin from Utah, determined to make it as full-time ranchers. Traditionally, that means raising calves until they are weaning weight, 400 to 500 pounds, then selling to the commercial growers.
“Then it’s a long journey with multiple hands in the process,” said Lyman of the various living conditions cattle experience as they prepare for market.
It’s why ranchers get so little from every dollar they invest. But even after expanding their public land leases to 60,000 acres, the Lymans found they couldn’t make a consistent profit by selling their cattle to the traditional commercial market.
So, they started a mad scramble to develop other revenue streams on top of continuing to sell weaned calves.
For starters, they signed up to take a class on ranching for profit. But without a bedroom to spare for an office, Cassie gambled on renting office space on Main Street — with no intention of operating a storefront meat shop.
But then the pandemic constricted meat distribution as meat processing operations shut down.
In response, Cassie started selling whole, half and quarters of her beef through her Facebook page to fill requests from locals.
Then, the store in Rye asked if she could sell beef in single servings.
She gulped — knowing she would have to work through a bureaucratic maze of inspections and butchering operations. But she took a deep breath and plunged ahead. She found an FDA approved butcher in Tucson. That means frequent trips to Tucson with the cattle trailer, but it also opened the door to also selling meat through the Back to Basics health food store in Payson.
And that went so well that she took another gamble: opening her own outlet from that Main Street office. She had to get a business license and make a fresh set of investments — but continued to pursue her evolving labor of love.
So naturally, the big snowstorm hit the day of her opening.
She opened anyway. Sometimes, that’s what love demands.
She’s been improvising ever since.
“It’s a lot harder than people think — and a lot of time. There is always ranch work to get done, too,” she said.
So, she comes to the shop on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and “every other Wednesday or Thursday” to have the store open regularly.
Sometimes, she opens on other days — luring in customers with a social media blast.
But wonderful things keep happening.
For instance, Duza’s Kitchen on Main Street now serves Lyman Ranch beef in its local sourced dinner appetizers and its dog food on the pet menu. On Valentine’s Day this year, Duza’s Kitchen will serve Lyman Ranch strip loin New York steak (call for reservations).
Lyman hopes other restaurants will also start using her beef, so she has marketing ideas and plans on notes plastered around her Main Street office.
Ultimately, she’d love to play a role in creating a locally sourced foodie heaven in Payson.
“I’d like to see an investor in creating sustainable local food from start to finish invest here,” she said. “There is kind of excitement around that.”
Ambitious. No doubt.
But that’s one thing Lyman has learned.
There’s no telling where following your heart will lead.
Providing you’re willing to learn how to tweet and post.
And shovel snow with spirit.
For more information, visit http://www.lymanranch.com/ or call 928-978-7926.