Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A first in Minnesota, a meat vending machine in Ellendale October 19, 2017

Steve’s Meat Market in Ellendale is co-owned by Donnavon Eaker and her daughter, Rachael Lee. Steve, married to Donnavon, died in 2006. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


YOU CAN BUY candy, snacks, sandwiches, pop and more from a vending machine. Ditto for renting movies and getting cash. Now a small southeastern Minnesota meat market is offering its award-winning smoked and cured meat products to customers via a vending machine.


The Ellendale Centennial Mural along Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


I couldn’t quite believe this when I heard a radio spot promoting the newly-installed meat vending machine outside Steve’s Meat Market in Ellendale just off Interstate 35 south of Owatonna. But there it was, documented on Steve’s Facebook page and promoted as the first of its kind in Minnesota and second in the U.S. The machine comes from Germany.


Smokey Acres is the in-house label for Steve’s meats. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


Smokey Acres…Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


An artsy window display at Steve’s promotes its fresh cut meat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


Installed last week, the vending machine seems like a smart move on the part of the Ellendale market, a family run business for more than 40 years. The shop can’t be open all the time, frustrating consumers who today seemingly want 24/7 access to Steve’s products. Now happy customers can come anytime day or night for beef sticks, cheese curds and more, yes, even bacon. Just bring your debit or credit card; the machine doesn’t accept cash or Ebt cards.


In the small town of Ellendale, kids bike to Lerberg’s Foods for groceries and the occasional slushie. Here two sisters and a friend slurp their slushies while sitting on bags of water softener pellets next to the pop machine. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2011.


This meat vending machine is creating quite the buzz in this community of nearly 700 where you’ll also find an old-fashioned grocery store—Lerberg’s Foods—worth visiting.


Steve’s is one of those small town meat markets that draws customers both far and wide for its quality products. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


While Steve’s claims their refrigerated meat vending machine as the first in Minnesota, some 100 miles away to the north in Hudson, Wisconsin, RJ’s Meats installed one earlier this year.


TELL ME: What do you think of this idea?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


34 Responses to “A first in Minnesota, a meat vending machine in Ellendale”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Well I think that is ingenious. I mean how many times have you had a craving for bacon when the store was closed and your freezer yielded nothing ? I would love to see how the machine works. Headed to their page to see if they have pics. Thanks for the fun post.

  2. Jena Says:

    Well you learn something new everyday don’t you? You will have to try out this vending machine for us!

  3. Sometimes you have a craving for bacon in the morning or a late night snack of cheese curds and you really want the good stuff too – YUM! Pretty cool idea. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. Littlesundog Says:

    I like the idea! Even though I never run out of anything (I’m part squirrel you know – always a cache of goodies in my own freezer) I think this is a very clever tool for today’s demanding consumer. It will be interesting to note at a later time, just how effective sales are for them, and whether some products sell out fast and can’t be kept up with.

    I was immediately amused by the name of the town. My mom’s name is Ellen and my brother’s name is Dale. 🙂

  5. Bernadette Says:

    Creative marketing can happen anywhere including small towns. Great idea for Steve’s Market, which is well known to our family. My parents used to take hogs and beef to be butchered and processed there. We made many trips to Ellendale to get meat and Steve’s hand-tied weiners were a favorite of my dad’s. Thanks for the memories.

  6. Jackie Says:

    What a great idea, I bet that small town loves this place. I bet it’s something that is soon to be very popular.

  7. Susan Ready Says:

    My first thought was unnecessary since grocery stores are open all the time but then it is a small town that have winter hours and close early like 6:00 here in Hackensack so my thought… ingenious and creative but still I guess I am old fashioned like to see the meat package rather than spending my money in a machine and finding out not really what I wanted or could become spoiled etc.

    • That “not being open all the time” apparently prompted Steve’s to install the vending machine. Information on the market Facebook page shares that an alarm will alert the owners if the temperature inside the vending machine drops to an unsafe level for the meat. I can only assume it will be stocked with fresh product. I did some advance online research and found Steve’s to be a highly-respected, award-winning meat market.

      The points you raise, though, are valid. It will be interesting to see how this takes off, or doesn’t.

  8. Randy Helbling Says:

    Great idea. You never know when you may need a beef stick at 2 AM. and the local fas gas is closed. Now all we need is to find an old ciggy vending machine and lottery ticket machine to set next to it. I’m sure the convenience store would see a dramatic drop in sales.

  9. Don Says:

    Well…BAH…. call me old fashioned but one of the reasons I like small towns is the slower pace of life, taking time to “smell the roses” and not dealing with issues of immediate satisfaction/gratifications. I grew up in a small town and if we were not smart enough to plan ahead… such as when the store is open, well….we just went without. Items that we were unable to buy because the store was closed seem to have been much more appreciated when we were able to get them. Anticipation I suppose. Growing up I can recall many times looking forward to receiving an item in the mail, this after sending the order in via “snail mail” then the receiving store filling the order and returning it via “snail mail”. Again anticipation. In my opinion automation is not necessarily a good thing. Where is the younger generation going to get their first jobs when automation has made cashiers, waitresses/waiters bank tellers, etc. obsolete? You can bet big corporations would love to get rid of the cost of labor! Steve’s Meat Market sign says “fresh cuts daily” hum their sign is now obsolete………………………

    Rant off now and off my soapbox…………………….

    • You raise lots of points for discussion. I can relate to what you wrote given our similar upbringings in rural Minnesota. But I am thankful some things have changed. Today’s world is vastly different from the one in which we grew up. That can be good. And that can be not so good.

  10. Valerie Says:

    I think it’s a very Interesting concept. I wonder if it will catch on?

  11. Almost Iowa Says:

    When harvest is done, we will have to get over there… but then again, it looks like rain tomorrow. Might be able to say hi to the wife…. you never know.

  12. I think it’s a great idea for a small town and those middle-of-the-night cravings!

  13. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Great idea for a small town business now where can I find one that sells yarn?

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