Sunbeam Meat Market can't afford to stay in business because of new provincial rules
A Flour Mill butcher is hanging up his cleaver and the shop’s trademark cow has been put on the auction block.
The Sunbeam Meat Market on Laforest Avenue, known to many by its bovine mascot, has been serving customers since 1936.
In a little more than week, residents of the neighbourhood — and others who travel quite a distance to patronize Sunbeam — will have to go elsewhere for their bacon, kielbasa and chops, while the moulded moo-er on its exterior will likely have found a new home.
“I’m auctioning off as much as I can to try to pay down the debt that I have,” said Sunbeam owner Dave Daoust. “I put the building up for sale and I told my daughter to post the cow to start a bidding war.”
A picture of the statue went up Thursday on Facebook Marketplace, along with the description: “Cow has been a Sudbury landmark since the ’50s. Bidding starts at $3,000.”
As of late Thursday afternoon no one had placed a bid, although the post had received “a lot of hits and people interested,” said Daoust. “It is an iconic thing, here anyway.”
While the cow has been a fixture of the butcher shop for years, it did go on at least one adventure in the past.
“It was stolen at one point way back in the 1970s,” said Daoust. “They brought it over to Civic Square, put it in the flower bed there, and wrote on it: ‘This is where bullshit grows.’ \”
The caper made the front page of The Sudbury Star, he said, which alerted then-owner Rudolph Paquette of his emblem’s whereabouts.
“That’s how Rudolph found his cow,” Daoust said with a laugh.
The cow was thereafter bolted and welded into place to prevent further rustling attempts.
Daoust said he took over the business 12 years ago after running a butcher shop in Garson.
He still calls the latter community home but actually grew up in the Flour Mill, and relished the opportunity to return to the neighbourhood as Sunbeam operator.
“I was born and bred two streets down from here, on Queen Street,” he said. “That’s what sparked my interest because I was from here and I know most of the people around here. So it’s been pretty interesting to get back with the folks I grew up with.”
Sadly, the business is no longer viable, he said, although it’s not for a lack of interest from customers.
Like many shops, Sunbeam has struggled during the pandemic, but it was able to keep its doors open and many loyal patrons have continued to shop here.
The problem, the butcher said, is provincial rules governing meat processing that make it impossible for him, as a small producer, to continue making smoked meats and other items that constitute a huge part of his trade.
“The fresh meat is OK, but they say I can’t do smokies, beef jerkies, kielbasa, nothing like that,” he said. “No pepperettes or bacons, no peameal bacon. We can’t brine anything — we can’t even do salt pork.”
Those products account for more than half of Sunbeam’s business, he said. “So it’s like a nuclear bomb for me — game over.”
Daoust said he was visited a month ago by inspectors from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, along with counterparts from the local health unit, and warned he would have to pay a $50,000 fine if he continued to produce meats that are smoked or emulsified.
“Those are all items people have been buying here for the past 60 years, and for them to introduce that kind of legislation and enforce it, to the point where you send people to bankruptcy houses, that’s sad,” he said.
The butcher said he lodged a formal complaint with the province and Sudbury MPP Jamie West will be visiting him Friday to see if there is a way around the problem, although he’s not optimistic a solution can be found.
“I think this place should have been grandfathered in to start with, in spite of the law, but there’s no exceptions,” he said. “I asked the inspection officer what the reason is for all this and he said you are adding carcinogens to the products by smoking it. I said really, well how many pot shops have opened up in the last two years that (Justin) Trudeau legalized? There’s no carcinogens in there?
“I think it’s a pretty poor excuse but they are adamant about what they do and how you are going to listen.”
His only real hope of continuing on, he said, would be if some government funding was made available to “improve the situation to meet their criteria. Other than that, we’re done. You lose half your business and you can’t keep going; the overhead is too much.”
Daoust said his hydro bill alone is $1,500 a month, since he runs compressors, coolers and freezers.
The butcher — who has been plying this trade for nearly 40 years, like his father and grandfather before him — said at one point Ontario counted more than 460 small meat processors like himself, but following legislative changes in 2001 that number has dwindled to fewer than 30.
“You can’t force a small guy to be the same calibre as Maple Leaf, and that’s what they want,” he said. “They want the same criteria as far as the procedures and processing rooms go. Everything has to be stainless steel and made to their specs. Well, that is a lot of money for the amount of stuff I sell. I don’t wholesale; I just retail.”
He said he remodeled the facility when he took over a dozen years ago, but it still doesn’t meet ministry standards.
While Daoust is nearing retirement age, at 63, he still has a mortgage to pay on the Laforest Avenue shop and feels he has no choice but to sell the building, which includes second-floor apartments.
“My hands are tied and I gotta sell,” he said. “We’re a little mom and pop operation, stuck on old values.”
He doesn’t want to give up butchering but said he will likely transition to woodworking. “It’s not my first love, but I do staircases and hardwood floors, and after being self-employed for 30 years I don’t think I can go work for someone else.”
Daoust said he will miss many things about working at Sunbeam, but above all the clients.
“I’ll miss the social part — the people who come in for the hot smokies that just came out of the smokehouse, the hot pepperettes,” he said. “The kids go nuts over it, and I get people who come here from all over — Timmins, Ottawa, even Quebec. It’s been a bustling place. It’s just sad that, after 85 years, it has to go.”
The shop will remain open for another week, although Daoust said he isn’t selling any more of the products — such as jerky and kielbasa — that have been forbidden by the ministry.
Anyone interested in bidding on the Sunbeam cow can do so by visiting tinyurl.com/53nd9maf.