Steeped in history, Standard Meat Co. moves into the future

🕐 7 min read

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is a time when the city annually celebrates its ties to the ranching and meatpacking industry that was central to the city’s early economy. 

For Ashli Rosenthal Blumenfeld, co-president, and her brother Ben Rosenthal, co-president and CEO of Fort Worth’s Standard Meat Company, history is around them all the time. The pair, along with their father, Billy, who is chairman of the board, are part of a business that dates back to 1935, when Ben H. Rosenthal, a Russian Jewish immigrant, founded Standard Meat Co. to supply local hotels and restaurants with meat products. Ben Rosenthal is also Manager at Penrose, the family’s private investment company.

The Rosenthal family’s connection with Standard Meat has not been ongoing. It was  interrupted for several years when the company was acquired in 1983 by Consolidated Foods, later known as Sara Lee Corp.

Billy Rosenthal then retired from Standard Meat, but couldn’t quite get out of the business. He was asked by the then burgeoning Outback Steakhouse chain to supply them with steaks. That Outback Steakhouse connection eventually led to the re-emergence of a new Standard Meat in 1995 under Rosenthal ownership. 

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The privately held company now has more than 1,000 employees at several plants, including Dallas and Saginaw, and ships meat products to restaurant and supermarket chains around the world. It is known for its innovation. In 2011, Standard introduced water-jet slicing technology and added technology to accurately portion ribeye and strip steaks in 2012.

The current meat-processing business is a long way from the early 20th century when cattle were processed through pens and large processing plants that once dominated the Stockyards area north of downtown. 

Standard Meat was born in that era, but now has the look and feel of a modern business. The company works closely with its customers to create efficiencies, particularly as many restaurants face a tough labor market. Anything the company can do to make their customer’s job easier helps both organizations, said Blumenfeld. 

“We work really closely with the equipment suppliers to find the right technology, to cut our steaks to a perfect thickness so that the grill guys in the back of house …  you want to be able to educate them really quickly as to how to perfectly reheat that steak to a medium, medium rare, well done, whatever it may be,” she said. 

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“If the thickness is perfect and always consistent, then they can get a perfect steak out every time. So we’re very proud of the technology we’ve put in place and get that perfect thickness,” Blumenfeld added. 

Ashli Rosenthal Blumenfeld, co-president, and Ben Rosenthal, co-president and CEO of Standard Meat Co. of Fort Worth. (David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)

The company has also moved into new sectors, including the subscription meal kit market in 2019. That was a fortunate move as subscription meal kits like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron grew fast through the pandemic. 

“We’re now in the meal kit space, which is a space that really didn’t even exist a few years ago,” said Rosenthal.

“No one wanted to take a chance on it,” said Blumenfeld. “But for some reason we were dumb enough to take a chance and it’s been the best thing.” 

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While the two co-presidents and siblings can talk about the meat industry all day long and both grew up in the family business, they both pursued other careers prior to returning to Fort Worth. 

Blumenfeld, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a minor in Business from Tulane University spent five years in New York City – first in the Communications Department at Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna, later becoming the Public Relations and Events Manager at St. John Knits.

Rosenthal started his career as an analyst in the investment banking division with Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York after graduating from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia with a degree in finance and accounting.

Eventually, relationships and raising a family brought the two back to Fort Worth and the family business. The two became co-presidents in 2019. They also have a sister, Maddie, who is a doctor. 

The company’s headquarters was in downtown Fort Worth for many years, but just prior to the pandemic, they moved offices to another location with plenty of ties to history: the former Swift & Co. Office Building at 600 E. Exchange Ave., built in 1902 as the city became home to several huge meatpacking plants. 

Swift left in 1955, but the building has been in use as a restaurant and office building over the years before being restored by XTO Energy in 2007. 

Like the move into subscription food service, the timing was fortuitious. 

“This became almost like a home away from home for our team because we could still come up here because it’s spaced out,” said Rosenthal. 

While many meatpacking plants had difficulties with employees coming down with COVID, Blumenfeld said they put protocols in place at their plants quickly. 

“We were very, very strict with the plants,” said Blumenfeld. 

Rosenthal is proud the company was able to make all deliveries to customers during the pandemic. Blumenfeld noted that despite the pandemic, their plans to continue the family’s legacy have not been held back. 

“I think our plans are still in motion that we really set in motion back in 2019, and that was to continue our family legacy and make sure that culture, that we’re so proud of, that really was started by our great-grandfather could continue on,” she said. “It’s this culture that we have a hard time articulating sometimes, but it’s just this warm environment where people love going to work every day. And they know that what they do is important and we value each person so much, they know that we could never support our partners, our customers, who we are  equally close with, without them.”

Maintaining that culture is difficult as the company grows, she said. 

“We’re so much bigger than we used to be. We have to maintain this entrepreneurial spirit that was totally Billy Rosenthal. He is this amazing entrepreneur. How do you maintain that spirit? But then also professionalize so you can communicate with 1,000 employees instead of a hundred employees,” she said. 

To help new employees enter the industry, Standard Meat does have a strong connection with Texas A&M, as well as other schools in the state. But the A&M connection dates back to 1938 when Manny Rosenthal, their great-grandfather, enrolled at Texas A&M to study meat science and business administration. In 1987, the Texas A&M Meat Sciences and Technology Center was dedicated to Rosenthal and his wife, Roz. Now called the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center, the company has provided internships and often careers for many of the students there. According to Texas A&M over S20 million dollars worth of research has taken place at the center. 

For Rosenthal and Blumenfeld, the Stock Show is a time to celebrate Fort Worth’s connection to the meatpacking industry — and to bring clients into town to give them a feel of the city’s heritage that continues to this day. 

“There’s so many traditions that have really stayed in place from the time we were five or six to where we are today,” said Rosenthal. He is on the Stock Show Syndicate. Founded in 1980, the Fort Worth Stock Show Syndicate has purchased more than 8,800 animals for a total of more than $59.5 million, with the funds going to youths who raise the award-winning animals. Blumenfeld is on what she calls the “fun committee,” the Spur Committee of the Stock Show, that helps bring music to the show. 

The Stock Show is also a time they remember as kids, attending the Junior Sale of Champions the last Saturday of the show with their parents and grandparents.  

“We grew up going to that with them and had a great experience,” said Rosenthal. 

As longtime members of the community, the two are also involved in a variety of philanthropic efforts. Rosenthal is a member of the Board of Trustees of Trinity Valley School, the YPO Fort Worth Board, the Center for Transforming Lives Board, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History Board of Trustees.

Blumenfeld serves on boards such as Tarrant Area Food Bank, Cook Children’s Medical Center, the Fort Worth Zoo, and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. She and husband Todd Blumenfeld have also established the Rosenthal Blumenfeld Research Endowed Fund within the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane to enable research on the diverse food cultures of the Gulf South.

Bob Francis, a former editor of the Business Press, is business editor of Fort Worth Report. His articles continue to appear in the Business Press.

This article was originally published by Fort Worth Report.

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