The Meat Specialists

Critchfield Meats
Written by Ryan Cartner

Foodservice distributor Critchfield Meats supplies meat and restaurant supplies to nearly every restaurant in central Kentucky, as well as to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, regional distributors, and retail customers through its grocery store and butcher shop in Lexington, Kentucky.
Critchfield Meats began in 1969 in the back of Taylor’s hardware store where its founder Amos ‘Butch’ Critchfield prepared country hams. Butch had a passion for the butchering trade and believed that there was a need in the Lexington community for a place to buy the best cuts of meat at a competitive price.

“He was a family man,” says Larry McMillan, chief executive officer of Critchfield. “He knew what his needs were and believed that he could fill those needs for the community and that they would support it.” He went to work to build his business from that first location, and the Lexington community helped it grow.

The business soon outgrew its place in the back of that small hardware store, and Amos opened a little old-fashioned butcher shop with a bakery where he and his wife Opal served the Lexington community for many years with high-quality cuts of meat and baked goods. When Amos passed away, his four sons, Harold, Larry, Mike, and Mark, bought the business from Opal.

The company’s retail location was moved in 1987 into a larger facility so that it could be expanded. The company still runs the butcher shop, and the bakery still uses the old family recipes that were handed down to Opal. Critchfield Meats has grown significantly over the years, but it has held fast to its history and its tradition. “We even still do country hams,” says McMillan. “They’re aged for over a year, and people buy them in all fifty states.” Amos Critchfield’s butcher shop has evolved into something much larger, but the leadership still honors its roots.

By the mid-1990s, the retail location, having already seen a great deal of success with consumers, had begun to attract the attention of local restaurateurs. The quality of the products appealed to restaurant owners and chefs, and they started to purchase cuts of meat from the butcher shop. Critchfield’s leadership recognized this opportunity and Mark Critchfield, President, began to seek out local commercial customers in and around Lexington. In 1997, the company built a distribution and processing plant that would be USDA-inspected to support a new wholesale division.

Today, the company has fourteen employees, including co-owner Mike Critchfield, and Anthony Critchfield operating its retail location that serves the Lexington consumer market and twenty-six employees running its state-of-the-art wholesale distribution facility. Through that facility, it ships USDA-choice beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood, frozen appetizers, baked goods, and more throughout central Kentucky, southern Indiana, and southern Ohio.

The area containing Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati, is known in the region as the Golden Triangle because it contains most of Kentucky’s population, wealth, and economic growth. “There are more restaurants in the triangle than in any other place in the nation that I know of,” says McMillan. Critchfield Meats has focused its distribution on this region, and as a result, has earned approximately thirty million dollars in sales annually.

As well as food products, the company has expanded to include a full line of food service supplies including everything from to-go trays to kitchen equipment. It has customers in every area of the foodservice industry including a number of regional chains that buy nearly everything they need to operate through Critchfield.

“It’s a fast-paced business,” says McMillan. “We have to keep up with our customers’ needs and have everything available on a continual basis because we have about two hundred customers that depend on us fifty-two weeks a year.”

A critical component of the ongoing success of Critchfield Meats is its dedication to customer service. The company’s leadership believes that continued growth depends on its capacity to provide everything that a restaurant needs to operate. Customers place orders for fresh product multiple times a week, and the company has repeatedly proven its ability to contend with the fast pace of those demands. Moreover, when customers place orders for out-of-stock items, the company will backorder and ship the very next day. A dedication to customer service is key to remaining competitive in the foodservice industry, and Critchfield Meats has built its reputation on its ability to take care of customer needs.

Critchfield products are renowned for their quality and their freshness. The company is known throughout its operating territory as the best place to get a custom cut of prime steak, and it sells more than one million pounds of fresh poultry every month. As customer demand begins to shift toward antibiotic-free and hormone-free products and free-roaming poultry, the company has adapted its procurement to accommodate.

“Our customers know that, if they order something from us, we’re going to do our best to get that product to them when they need it, fresh for them to use the next day,” says McMillan. “Most big box stores mainly sell frozen product, but our customers need something they can cook the next day. They look to us for freshness.”

Within the markets that Critchfield serves, large billion dollar multinational big box stores keep the pressure on. The solution has been to provide superior products and a level of customer service that those companies cannot match. The company has a small minimum volume order requirements and is nimble enough to react to customer needs very quickly. “We’re able to make decisions that they can’t,” says McMillan. “We can turn a tractor-trailer around on a dime.”

The company’s management team has over 150 years of combined experience in managing retail butcher shops, bakeries, and wholesale distribution plants. Under their leadership, the company has seen consistent success.

The leadership believes in God, country, and family above all. These values have been imparted to the entire team. This culture lends itself to a level of teamwork and productivity that has enabled the company to compete with much larger companies.

Critchfield employees are loyal to the company because the company’s leadership has demonstrated its commitment to them. “Our coworkers are our family, and we share this company with them.” says McMillan. The company has a long track record of helping employees through issues unrelated to work. Further, the company has 401(k) retirement program and a profit sharing program through bonuses to honor the contribution of its workforce. Critchfield employees are invested in the success of the company because they all have a personal stake in it.

Since its establishment, Critchfield Meats has grown from a small local butcher shop to one of the largest USDA-inspected meat-processing and distribution companies in the state. While many competing distributors are not USDA-certified and cannot process their own products, Critchfield is a custom-cut producer capable of sourcing and cutting any meat product a customer might need.

Annual third-party audits of its manufacturing practices have enabled the company to meet the strict standards set by some of its partners. The company has achieved preferred vendor status for Sodexo, Integra, and Aramark, three large-scale food management companies serving universities, manufacturing plants, hospitals, hotels, and other high volume customers.

Kentucky Proud is a program by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture that promotes locally sourced meat products, and Critchfield is the certified distributor for this program, providing local products to Kentucky consumers and businesses.

McMillan’s primary goal going forward is to continue the legacy of Amos Critchfield. This year, the company celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, and he believes that it is well positioned to succeed in the food services market for another fifty. “I had an old customer who bought from us for over thirty years tell me once, ‘Critchfield Meats is a family tradition with us,’” says McMillan. “When I thought about that more, I realized he’s absolutely right. So many people call on me as a vendor with stories about how their grandparents took them to that little butcher shop when they were six or seven years old. Most of the people in Lexington have grown up with Critchfield Meats, and it really is a family tradition.”



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