Busiest steakhouse in Missouri
By Doug Rich
For 11 days in August the busiest steakhouse in Missouri is not in St. Louis or Kansas City. That distinction belongs to the Beef House at the Missouri State Fair.
Patty Wood, who manages the Beef House along with her husband, Pat, said they serve 2,500 to 3,000 people a day during the fair.
The Beef House opened in 1982 as a way for the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association to showcase beef at the state fair.
“The line is out the door during our lunch and supper hours,” Wood said. “But if you are standing at the door you will be up at the counter in 15 minutes and we will have your steak ready for you.”
Volunteers from the county beef organizations around the state augment the small paid staff at the Beef House. Wood said 700 to 800 volunteers work at the Beef House during the 11 days of the fair. Patty Wood and her husband, who are cattle producers and MCA members themselves, started as volunteers. Pat Wood became a paid manager in 1994 and Patty Wood started as a paid cashier in 1995.
Months before the state fair begins, MCA staff members begin calling county organizations to find out if they plan to work at the Beef House and begin putting a schedule together. Generally a county brings 15 to 20 people for each four-hour shift. This year FFA chapters started volunteering to work at the Beef House.
Wood said some counties like to work on the same day every year. La Fayette County cattle producers like to work Thursday morning when all of the politicians are at the fair.
When volunteers arrive to work their shift they sign in, get an apron with their name, county and the time they get off are attached to the apron. They also receive a hat or visor to wear and a meal ticket. Wood does an orientation with each group to go over health regulations and job assignments before they begin their shift.
After the first group is trained in the morning they help train the next group that comes through. That process is repeated all day long as new volunteers arrive for their shift.
“We do what we can to make them successful at what ever job they choose,” Wood said. “If they are successful then the customers are satisfied. My staff and I are here to help them understand what their job is. We are repetitious in our instructions so the first customer and the very last customer get the same service right down to how much cheese we put on the salads.”
There are 25 workstations including those manned by paid staff. The meat cutters and chefs who cook the steaks are paid. It would be too hard and time consuming to train volunteer staff for those positions.
“You can’t feed 3,000 people unless there is someone at each station,” Wood said.
Improvements are made to the Beef House every year but two major additions have been added since 1982. Wood said they realized that the long lines waiting to get into the Beef House were a problem for people who worked at the fair and could not spend an hour waiting for their lunch or dinner. They needed a way to serve good beef to these people without the long line. The solution was the Depot, a sandwich shop that is located in a separate building behind the Beef House. The Depot only serves sandwiches and chips but there is no waiting.
Eight years ago they turned the space between the Beef House and a building sponsored by the Missouri Beef Industry into a covered patio. The Missouri CattleWomen uses this building for cooking demonstrations and beef promotions. For years this space was just a gravel lot but MCA added a roof, a floor and picnic tables to make it into an outdoor patio area. Customers can order food from the Beef House or the Depot and take it over to the patio.
Like any other busy steakhouses, this one is all about the beef. Patty Wood said they get their beef from the Performance Food Group in St. Louis, Mo. PFG starts looking for beef that meets Beef House specifications early in the spring to make sure they have an adequate supply. PFG sources quality meat throughout the central region for sale at the Beef House.
The menu includes a 10-ounce rib eye steak dinner, a 5-ounce rib eye steak dinner, 5-ounce rib eye sandwich on a hoagie bun, a barbecue sandwich, beef burger, and all-beef hotdog. Wood said the steaks are tender enough to cut with a plastic knife.
The next time you visit the Missouri State Fair stop by the Beef House for a great steak dinner, but be prepared to stand in line. This will give you time to visit with the cattlemen who volunteer there and learn about beef production in Missouri.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.