by Jim Bainbridge, Colorad Springs Gazette
Mike Callicrate, the face of the Ranch Steakhouse and Market since it opened in October 2005, has sold his minority partnership in the restaurant because of a disagreement over how the business should be run. Ranch Steakhouse was started as a showcase for the no-hormone, no-antibiotic brand of meats sold by Callicrate’s Ranch Foods Direct Co., and while it developed a loyal following — sales of $2.5 million last year — majority owner Neil McMurry wanted to try a new direction. McMurry is buying his meats from industry giant Iowa Beef Processors (IBP), a division of Tyson Foods.
“My partner and I didn’t agree on the concept for the restaurant,” Callicrate said. “Essentially, he owned the building and I was unwilling to compromise on our company’s pledge and purpose, so the relationship has ended.” The last meals with Ranch Foods Direct meat were served on Valentine’s Day, and the Ranch Food Direct market just inside the front entrance at 575 Garden of the Gods Road closed Thursday, soon to be replaced by a bar.
The restaurant will undergo a name change — it may be announced as early as today, according to manager Steve Abeyta — and has placed notices on each table letting customers know about the change of meat providers. “I can’t tell you what it felt like to walk into the cooler at the restaurant and see IBP beef there,” Callicrate said. “These are the people I’ve been fighting for years.”
Callicrate, 55, was the lead plaintiff in a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Tyson Foods-IBP a decade ago — the first such challenge to a major meatpacker since 1921 — and has been an ardent opponent of big agribusiness all of his career. Callicrate said he attempted to buy the majority interest in the restaurant, but that McMurry, 83, “was not willing to work with me. It is a very big disappointment. I put a lot of money into the business, not to mention time and effort.” McMurry was not available for comment Thursday. Terms of the buyout have not been finalized.
Callicrate said that McMurry once believed in the Ranch Steakhouse concept, but thought that his advisers had convinced him that he could do better “with less expensive meats.” “I think these guys see a place like Outback Steakhouse with the parking lot full,” Callicrate said, “and don’t see the value of buying a better product.” Callicrate will continue to operate his other Ranch Foods Direct stores and online at www.ranchfoodsdirect.com.
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