If you’re looking for quality fresh and smoked meats, then you have to stop at Owens Meats in Cle Elum, Washington. The meat market has been a staple in Kittitas County for over 125 years. Five generations of Owens have built the business into what it is today by expanding the Cle Elum location, adding meat machines across the state and preparing to open a second location.
A staff of about 20 employees, including four members of the Owens family, serves anywhere from 400 to 1,000 customers a day at the Cle Elum meat market, which is open seven days a week.
A Rich History
Owens Meats has been in business longer than Washington has been a state, opening its doors in 1887, two years before Washington achieved statehood. It is thought that Owens Meats is the oldest continuously operated business in Kittitas County.
The rich family history started with Morgan Owens, who moved to Roslyn for the coal business, but stayed to feed the miners, according to the Owens Meats website. The store was located in a couple of different Roslyn locations before moving to Cle Elum. In 1906 a new generation of Owens — Richard and David — took over the market. Business proved challenging to navigate as the Great Depression and a coal miner strike took a toll on the mining community and Owens Meats.
The meat business rebounded though, and in 1937 Owens Meats reopened in its current location on First Street in Cle Elum. Richard Owen’s son Ray worked at the family business starting when he was just 10 years old and helped with sanitation by “swatting the flies.” This eventually led to Owens Meats bringing the first refrigerated meat case to Kittitas County in the 1920s. In 1946, the market built its own packing plant in Cle Elum, which is still used to this day for game processing and custom meat.
As the market needs changed, so did Owens Meats. For many years the business sold large cuts of meat in quarter and half sections, but in the 1980s it adapted to the meat retail model.
In 1988 Ray Sr. was elected as Kittitas County Commissioner and he turned the business over to his sons Don and Doug Owens, who currently run the business with their wives and Don’s daughters.
“There’s been a ton of pride in keeping that family business going,” said Doug Owens. “There’s been a lot of challenges, but they’ve been fun challenges and we’ve felt that we were obligated to continue the business. We’ve worked real hard at it and it’s a stronger business now than it’s ever been.”
Owens Meats carries a variety of meats, cheeses, sausages, sauces, pepperoni and pickled items. People have been known to drive across the state for their smoked pork chops which are maple sugar cured, hickory smoked pork chops. Their apple link sausages give the right amount of sweet and salty as the pork sausages have an apple pie filling.
If you don’t want to make a marinade at home you can purchase marinated chicken, flank steaks or tri-tips. The marinade includes gluten-free soy sauce, sesame seed, sesame oil, fresh green onion, ginger minced garlic and a touch of sugar. All you have to do is throw it on the grill! Owens Meats goes through about 1,000 pounds of marinated chicken and smoked pork chops each week.
Their website has recommended cooking times for on the grill, on the stovetop, a sear/oven finish and in the oven for t-bone, rib eye, New York and tenderloin cuts.
Meat Vending Machines
If you’re driving through Cle Elum and don’t have a cooler to transport meat, then you might want to consider one of their smoked products from the meat vending machine outside the store. There are about 25 meat machines at various locations across the state.
Meat machines are located in Ballard, Belfair, Cashmere, Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Monroe, Moses Lake, North Bend, Plain, Point Ruston, Seattle, Sumner, Wenatchee, Woodinville and Yakima. The majority of Owens Meats’ business comes from people traveling through the county, so the meat machine idea allows customers around the state to obtain their products without having to travel as far.
One of their more popular packaged products is called The Good Stuff, and it’s a mixture of various beef jerky, pepperoni and diced cheeses.
Point Ruston Expansion
Owens Meats is currently working on a second location on the West Side. This summer they will open a location at the Public Market at Point Ruston, a 30,000 square-foot building featuring indoor shopping, dining and events. The Tacoma meat market will be similar to the one in Cle Elum and will offer all of the same products. The meat market will be inside the larger Point Ruston Public Market that will also have other businesses like restaurants, coffee shops and specialty shops.
Owens Meats is open for regular business hours with some additional rules. Customers are instructed to use hand sanitizer upon entering and observe six feet of physical distancing. If there is a line, people should wait along the outside of the store, while maintaining six feet of physical distancing until an employee directs you inside. There are limitations on amounts available per person for some cuts of meat. Because of inflation from COVID-19, prices are a little higher than they have been. The production is down and the demand is up in the meat industry, Owens said.
Some meat machines have been affected by location closures due to COVID-19, but will be restocked as businesses reopen.
Want to order some of their meats, but don’t want to travel? Give Owens Meats a call at 509-674-2530 to inquire about mailing orders. Smoked items like pepperoni and jerky are available for shipping.