Venison World: A Ranching Tradition
The highway from San Angelo to Austin is studded with small meat shops and deer processing plants, two to three in just about every town with a population over five. About 45 miles southeast of San Angelo on U.S. Highway 87 lies a small store with a huge and telling advertisement painted on the building next door: “Ranch Raised in the Garden of Eden,” reads the sign, “Venison World” printed above it.
Not any larger than a Stripes convenience store, Venison World’s products are known nationwide, and many of them can be now be found at other interstate-side retailers throughout the state of Texas. But how did such a small store in a “city” with a total land area of 2.4 square miles make it on the map?
Marsha Stabel, current owner of Venison World in both Eden and Menard, explains.
“[Venison World has been around] since the early ‘90s, I believe it was 1991,” Stabel says. “The interesting thing is, there was a group of ranchers here in the Eden area who raised the Axis deer. My husband has a Master’s in Meat Science and we have a processing plant down there in Menard. So they came to Max and said, ‘can you develop a line of products, so we can utilize the meat and market it?’ And so he did, and that was in the early ‘90s,” Stabel said.
For 12 years, that same group of ranchers ran the Venison World retail store in Eden until they ultimately went their separate ways.
“They had other things come up and so forth, so we ended up buying the store at that time,” Stabel said. “We’ve actually owned and operated the store since 2003.”
Since it’s inception, Venison World has been a favorite highway stop for passersby seeking fresh venison jerky, summer sausage, dips, sauces and other items typical of a country store. Though products have been added and new recipes tested over the years, the original recipes developed by Max Stabel are still hot sellers today.
“We have kind of an artisan line of some of the sausages,” Stabel says. “We have a venison sausage with a balsamic reduction in it, we have a venison sausage with dried cherries in it, stuff like that. Those are some of our newer items.”
As for Stabel, her favorite product is the Hunter’s Dried Venison Ring, a cured and smoked sausage taking inspiration from the early German settlers.
“In the old days, they hung it in the barn and let it dry there,” Stabel says, explaining how the sausage is made. “Now, we do it in our USDA facility and dry it in the smoke house. But anyway, it’s a good product. It’s the kid that you cut off with your pocketknife and throw on the dashboard, you know?” she laughs.
While not many changes have been made business-wise since the Stabels took over in 2003, the source of some of the meat has expanded a bit to accommodate supply and demand.
“We do get some [meat from local ranchers], but there are fewer animals available now because hunting has become a bigger business, so we have to get some of our meat elsewhere,” Stabel says. “A lot of our meat comes from New Zealand, where they farm deer like we would farm cattle. They’re very advanced in their agricultural process.”
Although not all of the meat is locally sourced, the cuts they do purchase externally are all prepared at the family’s plant in Menard, using traditional recipes that customers have come to know over the years. Local animals are also processed in the plant.
“For the animals that are harvested here locally, we do end up with the whole carcass,” Stabel says. “So we have some fresh cuts as well, like loin chops and backstraps and that sort of thing.”
Still, the store’s most popular items remain to be the regular and spicy venison sausages, each of which is also sold as a jerky as well. In addition to the venison, buffalo, turkey and beef jerkys stock the shelves of Venison World, all of which are available in either mild or spicy recipes.
With a new year just begun, the Stabels are preparing for an ambitious year in business, with an aggressive sales goal. “Business around these products has grown,” said Stabel, noting the public’s interest in leaner, lower cholesterol meats.
For more information on Venison World or their products, visit their website.