Member stories / Be Yourself

The Business of Community: Mert's Meats

Words by Abbie Dyer on Apr 12, 2016 4:19:54 PM

Nestled in the corner of a strip mall in Okemos, MI sits a quaint grocery store with a history older than the building itself. Opening its doors in 2011, Mert's Specialty Meats is more than just a place to buy quality food items. It's a gathering place where people connect over their love of food and community.

As soon as you walk in the doors of Mert's Meats, it's apparent that this isn't an ordinary grocery store. While many of us have gotten used to workers in larger stores who avert their gaze and scurry away, the staff at Mert's genuinely takes pride in providing meaningful interactions that contain the same quality as the food in the store. Regular customers come in and share the latest news from their families, adding to the stories that they've pieced together over the years. And it's this homey, family-like atmosphere that Shirley, a Lake Trust business member and the owner of Mert's, believes is the reason that people are drawn to the store. 

  • Shirley-NEW.png
    More than a job. Shirley's favorite part of owning a business is the relationships she has with her customers.
  • Come on in. The small, friendly atmosphere is a big draw for loyal customers.
  • Michigan food
    Showing support. At Mert's, you'll find 400 Michigan-made foods from 170 state vendors. 

Putting Down Roots


One evening, Shirley turned the keys and locked up the offices of a major grocery chain, her employer for 13 years, for the last time. This was the beginning of 2011 when American families were still struggling to recover from the many hardships brought on by the recession. Suddenly out of work and despite the then current state of the economy, Shirley knew that she still had more work to do.


She wanted to keep working in the industry that she knew and loved and contacted the wholesalers that she connected with over the years. Her husband, coming from a long line of butchers, passed along his knowledge of the meat market trade and the butchering process to their son, Brandon, whose natural culinary skills would be of great benefit to the store.


"Call me crazy, but I wasn't scared [of owning a business]. It was just something that I wanted to do," Shirley says of starting out on her own.




Making a Name


The new store was well received by the Okemos community and soon grew a reputation for the quality products that it carried, including hormone and antibiotic-free beef. Brandon's unique flavors of sausage quickly ranked among the top selling products. To the staff, working at Mert's was more than just a job. It was a place where they were empowered to share their own culinary experiences and provide a listening ear to those who sometimes needed it most.


The original store was small, however, and Shirley wanted to provide a larger space for customers to gather. She decided to expand into a new market and the Mert's Meats Lansing location opened in June 2014. Just a short time later, the Okemos location underwent a major renovation that almost doubled the size of the retailer. 




Keepin' it Local


Shirley recognizes that a great part of the store's success comes from the support of the local community. Mert's Meats sponsors several high school athletic and choir programs, the YMCA, an area nature center and several other organizations. She also extends her gratitude to the community by working with local farmers in the summer to stock fresh fruits and vegetables in the store.


"We think it's important to support our fellow Michigan business people," Shirley explains. She shows further support by stocking 400 Michigan-made products from 170 state vendors.




Love What You Do


For those who want to enter small business ownership, Shirley emphasizes that it's important to do background research and establish a strong network of supporters. But believing in your vision and loving what you do are equally important. 


"I love waking up and going to work each day because I love what I do," she said when asked if she would change anything about her job. "Even unloading boxes from the trucks is fun for me."


But the most rewarding part of coming to work each day is creating friendships with her customers and their families. For Shirley, owning a business is so much more than just a way to make a living.

Do you have a unique story that you want to share? Tell us about it in the comments below!





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SEE ALSO: Lake Trust Member Highlight: Emily, Owner of Kaya Coffee House   |   For the Love of Dogs: A Tale of Hope


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