Sask. Poly meat shop sees successful sales on first day open for spring students

Retail Meat Cutting student Emily Rosenthal (left) bags some meat for a customer and reads off the product numbers to a cashier at Saskatchewan Polytechnic on Feb. 27, 2020. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Store an element of modernized program after boom in meat cutting industry, says instructor

Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s student-operated meat shop is open for the season.

Retail Meat Cutting instructor Don Cyr said the 22-week program runs two times a year, one from February to June and then from August to January. This is the third class to take on operating the shop, which was up and running in January 2019.

“The whole idea started back in 2014—we saw that there was a demand for meat cutters,” said Cyr.

Prior to that year, there were no meat cutting classes offered at Sask. Poly because of a decline in the industry.

“We saw a little bit of a revival with the small town meat shops as well as the grocery stores, and then all of the sudden everyone was demanding that they needed meat cutters again, so we decided to revamp the program,” he said.

They started selling student-produced meat in the cafeteria, but it was clear they needed something more.

After two years of modernizing the Retail Meat Cutting program, which included developing their own recipes, staff built a small shop off of the meat lab. That’s where students spend 90 per cent of the program, explained Cyr.

Not only do they produce and wrap all of the meat themselves, student also operate the till.

“It’s very important that students learn to first off interact with people, that’s a very valuable skill, as well as…learning how to do the till. They’re all very marketable skills.”

Cyr said they’ve never felt the need to advertise the shop because they don’t want to overwhelm the students. There’s only so much they can produce while still learning the proper techniques.

“We don’t really make a profit, but we don’t lose money either,” he said.

“The meat comes in the door, we cost it out properly, plus the supplies of wrapping and sanitizing and all of the things that are associated with a meat shop.”

A student stocks the shelves at Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s meat shop on Feb. 27, 2020. Instructor Don Cyr said it’s important for the students to not just learn how to prepare meat for sale, but to interact with customers. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Because the students aren’t paid, the cost of most meats is slightly cheaper than at the average grocery store.

However, with a little bit of advertising, they had over 100 transactions within about an hour and a half of being open on Tuesday.

“It’s a booming industry right now. There’s more jobs than we can produce students.”

Emily Rosenthal, who’s from Saskatoon, used to work in Safeway’s meat department. However, she said, it was more convenient for the store to have pre-cut meats shipped in for the employees to wrap.

“I saw this course and I was like ‘May as well try it out,’ and it’s been really fun,” she said.

Rosenthal was convinced she would be the only girl in her class, and was surprised to find out there were two others in the group of 10 students. Cyr said that’s even less than normal.

While people tend to think of meat cutting as a male dominated industry, said Cyr, his classes tend to be about 40 per cent women and 60 per cent men.

“For the first bit we did book work, before we got our knives and our uniforms,” said Rosenthal about the course.

“We all do two-week rotations with somebody else. So there’s me and another guy, we’re doing poultry right now and then the next two weeks after, I might do pork or beef. And then we stay on two-week rotations until closer to the end when we all do one week of lamb and seafood and goat.”

Cyr said they get fresh meat on Monday and Tuesday, and then the students prepare it for sale for the rest of the business week.

The meat shop is located in the Technical Building’s cafeteria area. It’s open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 2 to 4 p.m.