Jared and Stacey Nikkel were on a family vacation in Minnesota when they received a fateful phone call on Sunday morning, Oct. 16, 2016, that would change the course of their daily lives. The Nikkels’ business and sole provider of income, Sully Community Locker located at 407 7th Avenue in Sully, was on fire. With their three children in tow – 14-year-old Will,12-year-old Natalie, and three-year-old Charlie, Jared and Stacey immediately started the 220-mile trek home with a multitude of questions about the unknown future running through their heads.
Seventy years in business
The Sully Community Locker started in October 1946 by three businessmen, A.P. “Tone” Vander Beek, Everett Jackson, and Nelson Terpstra. Over the years, ownership of the locker remained in the extended Vander Beek family. In 1984, Warren and Alma Terpstra of Sully purchased five-eighths of the business owned by Warren’s father, Nelson, and continued the long-standing tradition of running a full-service meat locker specializing in cured meats, dried beef, and much more. In 2012, Jared and Stacey pursued a childhood dream of Jared’s and purchased the locker. In a thank you to the community published in the Hometown Press in November 2012, the Nikkels wrote, “The community of Sully has been blessed by the service provided by your [the Terpstra] family for the past 66 years, and we will strive to honor all that hard work by running the locker with the same values...We look forward to serving you for a long time to come.”
The Nikkels fulfilled their promise to the Terpstra family and the community by putting in long hours and hard work to meet and exceed customer expectations.
Little did they know that in their fourth year of ownership, the business which had been serving the community for 70 years and which they had poured their blood, sweat, and tears into, would go up in flames and be reduced to rubble and damaged goods in a matter of minutes.
Undetermined origin, undetermined future
The early morning Oct. 16 fire caused extensive fire, smoke, and water damage and started at an undetermined origin, according to insurance adjusters in the initial investigation of the fire. After further investigation, it was concluded the fire was caused by arcing of an electrical wire in the compressor room. Instead of planning a 70-year anniversary celebration, Jared and Stacey were faced with the daunting task of cleaning up and major business decisions that loomed ahead.
The first and foremost priority was taking care of the customers. At the time of the fire, the locker had nearly 140 customers with over 30,000 pounds of meat in storage. The Nikkels had to work quickly to get rid of the meat before it began to thaw and spoil. With the help of loyal employees and members of the Sully Lions Club, Jared and Stacey sorted and documented every piece of meat by cut, weight, and ownership under the watchful eyes of a state inspector to ensure everything was disposed of properly and customers would be reimbursed in full. Clean-up of the property was ongoing and on Nov. 14, the building was removed from 407 7th Avenue.
At the end of a very long day on Oct. 16, Jared and Stacey posted a heartfelt thank you on social media the evening of the fire. They wrote, “We don't know what the future holds, but we know the One in control and are sure of His goodness and faithfulness. We have more questions than answers right now and will begin the work of figuring it out tomorrow. We do hope to rebuild, but regardless, we know this is the start of something new and good - whatever that may be. Thanks to everyone again.”
Hopes of rebuilding were at the forefront of the Nikkels’ thoughts, but as the days and weeks passed, it became clear building a locker to meet state and federal processing standards in 2017 would be much more difficult than it was 70 years ago when the business first started serving the community. “Our top priority was getting what insurance proceeds we could to reimburse our customers in full. Once that was done, we considered whether we would have what it takes – financially, physically, and mentally – to take on building a whole new plant,” said Stacey.
Thankfully, the locker had great insurance coverage through Insurance Associates, Inc. This allowed complete customer reimbursement and a peace of mind for the Nikkels to focus on rebuilding efforts and not worry about their family or employees’ ability to pay the bills.
Bumps in the rebuilding road
Over the course of the locker’s 70-year history, the business was often “grandfathered” in on standards and regulations that now have to be met according to state and federal code. The Nikkels soon discovered building a new processing plant would carry a hefty price tag as all new equipment would need to be purchased to meet current processing standards. Those strict food safety standards, which the Nikkels fully agree with and comply to, also require extensive maintenance and cleaning time and effort. The logistics involved were daunting, and the Nikkels admit questioning their decision to rebuild. “There is so much planning, time, and money that goes into building a food processing plant,” said Stacey.
Even with bumps in the rebuilding road, the Nikkels continued to fight for their desire to rebuild and serve the community again. Another factor in the decision was the well-being of the locker’s employees. Jared and Stacey value their employees who, according to the Nikkels, were “committed to our business and to us, and we have much love and respect for them. They stuck with us through the fire clean-up, and most are planning to come back.” Ultimately, it was the support and response from the community that provided motivation for the Nikkels to continue the rebuilding process. “We have had so much support and encouragement that we couldn't ignore what they seem to want,” said Stacey of their customers.
Call on a “Whim”
The Nikkels exhausted many options during the initial rebuilding efforts. Jared and Stacey considered rebuilding on the original site but ultimately decided a larger building and better trailer access was necessary. “We started looking at options and praying about what would be best. We had always thought the Garden Chapel Funeral Home had a great location, but didn't think it would be for sale. So after exhausting our other options, Jared called on a whim and found out that they were, in fact, willing to consider a sale,” said Stacey.
New building, new hope
Fast forward several months and Jared and Stacey are now the owners of what previously was Garden Chapel Funeral Home located on the west edge of Sully at 11892 Hwy. F-62 E. The new location will provide ample parking, easy access, easier unloading for farmers, and room for expansion. In the months following the fire, Jared and Stacey visited several processing facilities and learned tips and things to avoid by fellow meat processors. With the help of a plant designer, the Nikkels determined they need a building with roughly 6,000 square feet, more than double the amount of space of the original Sully Community Locker.
The Nikkels developed a design for the new building and are taking bids for construction of the 4,200 square foot addition to the current building, which will expand on the east, west, and north sides. The current space will house a large retail area that will feature a small line of grocery and locally-made items, public restroom, office, and hopefully, in time, a deli kitchen. The processing portion of the business will be in the new addition, and will be visible from the retail space by a bank of windows.
The Nikkels don’t anticipate having to do much to the current space other than cosmetic work including removing carpet, polishing and sealing the concrete, and giving the place a rustic appearance.
A large part of the rebuilding budget will go towards new equipment. Although some of the locker’s old equipment was salvaged from the fire and is operable, it will no longer be relevant due to food safety regulations. The Nikkels will replace most, if not all, of their equipment with stainless steel, which will allow for thorough cleaning to meet state and federal requirements.
The Nikkels credit their faith and the strong support from family, friends, and the community in guiding and leading them to where they now stand in the rebuilding process. The decision wasn’t always clear and easy, but Jared and Stacey are committed to providing the same excellent service Sully Community Locker is known for and are excited about the future. The Nikkels anticipate the next few months will be a whirlwind of activity as they renovate, expand, and equip the new Sully Community Locker and Market, hoping to open this fall. Jared and Stacey are thankful for the support of family, friends, and the community and are looking forward to being back in business, carrying on a 70-year tradition in a modern facility ready to meet customers’ needs.