Randy Feigner learned the secrets of meat processing from legendary butcher Bill White.
The two often found themselves working side-by-side in the back of White's Country Meats — a shop Bill had founded and Randy had grown up in — and the close proximity allowed the man Randy thought of as a grandfather to pass along his techniques and recipes.
"It was back in the grinding room with Bill that I learned the craft," Randy said with a smile.
That knowledge and the family-atmosphere that has always made White's a special place has never faded, and under the direction of Randy, and his wife Wendy Feigner, the future looks bright for the local butcher shop that is celebrating its 35th anniversary in November.
"(At White's) we hold ourselves to a higher standard," Randy said. "People can tell when they taste our stuff."
At White's, 1207 S.E. Kane Drive, you can discover the best steaks, ribs, roasts, hams, chops, sausages, jerky, pepperoni, poultry and more. There are rubs and sauces, side dishes, and everything else needed to cook the best meals.
"We feed the community good food at a reasonable price," Randy said. "This is an experience you can't get at a grocery store."
Any cut of meat that isn't on display in the vast case can be requested from one of the workers behind the counter who are happy to serve.
"Customer service is our number-one goal," Wendy said. "We want everyone who walks through those doors to feel welcomed and comfortable."
Some of their most popular products are the smoked meats that are made in-house — like the smoked sausage, summer sausage and wide array of bacon. The pepper steaks are also a crowd favorite.
"These are the same recipes Bill White started way back in the day," Randy said. "The same awesome flavors our (longtime) customers remember from when they were 5 years old."
Path back to East County
White's Country Meats was opened by Bill in 1984, drawing on his vast knowledge of operating and working in butcher shops.
The business thrived in the early days, but eventually Bill had to step back because of health reasons in 1996. He wanted the shop to hold onto what made it special, so he asked longtime employees Russ and Robin Feigner — Randy's parents — to take ownership and continue his legacy. Though no longer the owner, White continued to process meat and lend his expertise to his namesake until about six months before he passed away.
While Randy grew up in the butcher shop, he didn't dive into the profession right away. He left to pursue a career as a mechanic for about five years, enjoying being able to still work with his hands. But eventually he realized the life of a mechanic wasn't a good fit, so he returned to the family business.
"What I love about this job is that you get to work with your hands — it's an art form," Randy said. "It's a skill that is really dying, because there aren't a lot of us small-meat processors around anymore."
Now Randy and Wendy are nearing completion of completely taking over the running of White's, allowing his parents to focus on enjoying retirement and relaxation. It will mark the third generation of owners.
"This is a special place for us, our employees and our customers," Randy said.
The business has exploded through the years. When his parents first took over, there were eight employees. Now White's employs 30 people — ranging from those new to the profession and those who've been behind the counter for decades.
Many find their way back to White's, much like Randy. One butcher began working at the shop when he was 16 years old. He went on to work for bigger corporations, but missed the atmosphere at White's, so more than a decade later he came back.
"We want our employees to work hard, but also be able to step away and spend time with their families," Randy said.
The business is always looking to recruit more young butchers, and is planning on creating a structured apprenticeship program next month to further facilitate training the new generation.
"This craft is needed, and you can make a decent living doing it," White said.
Randy has always been a willing student when it comes to being a butcher.
From Bill's lessons to taking several classes to learn old-world butcher techniques he could bring back to East Multnomah County, Randy is always trying to improve. He also joined the Northwest Meat Processors Association to get advice and support from a cadre of local butchers.
"We are all there to help each other grow together," Randy said.
Growth is central to White's Country Meats, with no one willing to rest on their laurels despite the 35 years of success.
The next big phase on the horizon that has everyone excited is the development of a food cart pod in the parking lot.
"We are trying to make this a meeting place, a one-stop shop," Randy said.
Already every Thursday through Saturday Burns Farms has a produce cart open. Soon, a customer can go buy meat from White's, pick up veggies next door, and then swing buy the food carts for a quick lunch before going about their day.
They are also making more pre-cooked items, like a smoked tri-tip that can be purchased every weekend. The meat is ready to eat right-away, which facilitates summer picnics.
"We don't want our customers to have to heat up the house on a hot summer day," Randy said.
And despite the changes, the core of White's will remain the same: quality meat and customer service.
"We wouldn't be here today looking at all this growth without our customers," Randy said. "Thank you to the community and its support."
White's Country Meats has a lot of recipe suggestions to best enjoy the wide array of cuts they offer. For more suggestions visit https://whitescountrymeats.com/recipes/
-- Season your ribs with your favorite seasoning
-- Smoke the meat at 160 degrees for four hours
-- Wrap the meat in foil, rib meat side down, add brown sugar and honey base to marinade
-- Increase the temperature to 225 degrees and cook for another two hours — one tip is to add beer or apple juice for more tender ribs
-- Remove foil and cook for an additional 45 minutes to lighten things up. Add sauce for glaze.
-- Cut and enjoy
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