Not being afraid to make a life altering change is what led the Dispenza family to their new calling.
Last September, Frank and Rachel Dispenza, the parents of six children, took a trip from their Town of Tonawanda home to Cloys in Ransomville to purchase a quarter of a cow.
Being tired of her husband complaining about his job, she asked the owner Dave Cloy if he was hiring. His response was they are not only hiring but they are selling the place.
“Less than a year later, now we own it,” said Frank.
He said they had always prayed if there were something better they could do in life they would get an answer.
“So many people are afraid of change,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with my job and we’re not afraid of change. Our whole story is built on our faith and our love for each other.”
Cloys first began in the late 1800s as a farm, then became a slaughterhouse and is now a full service meat market.
The Dispenza family has been running Cloys Meat Market and Slaughterhouse since the second week in July of 2012.
Old-Fashioned Local Service
“You can buy one steak or you can buy 50,” said Frank. “We’re a full service, custom, old-fashioned meat market. Like they use to be. We want to keep those values.”
We want people to know they don’t always have to go to a chain grocery store. They can stop at Dispenza's for quality meats and help local farmers at the same time.
We run Dispenza's the old-school way, with just four employees and a deep sense of pride. All of the slaughtering, cutting, trimming, and wrapping are done on-site, and we can butcher and hang up to eight beef a day.
Our facility processes naturally raised beef, pork, lamb, goats, and poultry from area farms, including Mathis, Hanssen, Blackman Homestead, and T-Meadow. We do our own dry aging, sausages, and pulled pork and chicken. We also sell bacon (smoked off-premises), Piatkowski’s pickled sausages, honey, maple syrup, and a mean spice rub. “We hope to get a smoker soon,” Frank says excitedly.
Meat is sold fresh or frozen. As a specialty butcher, we sell custom cuts you rarely see at supermarkets, like cheek, jowl, and pork belly, as well as primal and subprimal cuts—the basic sections from which steaks and other retail cuts are made. We also carry whole, half, or quarter animals.
Some of our restaurant customers include Carmelo’s in Lewiston and La Port’s in Lockport, and Canadians often stop in looking for peameal bacon. In March, a pig butchering workshop by COPPA’s Bruce Wieszala (then sous chef at Carmelo’s and now executive chef at Tabree) used T-Meadow pigs processed by us. We attended and were thrilled to see our animals in the demonstration. We also provided pork tenderloin for Carmelo’s winning dishes at the March 24 Nickel City Chef competition.
A Way of Life
Frank and Rachel stress that they have always been “pretty much against everything fast food stands for.” Rachel’s family had a large garden in the Kenmore suburbs, while Frank grew up on Pendleton farmland, where his grandfather raised baby goats.
Frank remembers him as being “pretty unsentimental and no-nonsense” in general, especially at slaughter time: “One day he put a rifle in my hand, shoved me forward, and said ‘It’s got to be done, so go and do it.’” So Frank did, and says he’ll never forget the first animal he ever killed. “It wasn’t fun, but it was the first time I felt responsible for my own food.”
He also remembers Marco, who spoke fluent Italian and would stop by the farm to buy goats. Seeing him arrive used to make young Frank burst into tears. “I still love goats,” he says.
Frank went on to serve as a police officer in Tonawanda for sixteen years. Rachel was an EMT in town, and the two met on the job.
The couple eventually decided they needed a different lifestyle for their growing family, and Frank missed the country. (They now have six kids, ages two to fifteen.)
Then Frank’s mother-in-law bought a quarter beef from Cloy’s and suggested that Frank apply for an open position there. In the fall of 2011, he began working with Dave Cloy and quickly discovered he loved the work. He also learned that the owners were looking to sell the business.
“Rachel and I talked a lot about it, and I finally asked her if she’d consider doing this with me, running the whole place,” Frank says. “I give her a lot of credit, coming out here to the country and starting over. A lot of our friends thought we were crazy. Some still do.”
The Dispenzas found that they had inherited more than a leak-prone roof. Old farm equipment had to be cleared from the property, the fields were untended, and the barn and outbuildings had fallen into disrepair. “There wasn’t a septic system as advertised, so we had to scrape together money to install one,” Rachel adds.
The slaughterhouse facility—basically a small room with concrete floors attached to outdoor holding pens—is also being updated.
Frank and Rachel are constantly buying new equipment and installing safety measures for both animals and employees. They hope to completely overhaul the facility with help from federal and state grants.
Rachel can’t watch the slaughtering, she admits, but both she and Frank break down the meat and demand humane treatment for each animal. Daily US Department of Agriculture inspections are conducted before, during, and after each animal is slaughtered.
“We get a lot of 4-H families bringing us their cows and sheep,” says Frank, adding that he will often lead animals into the facility himself. “The kids are very matter-of-fact about it; they know they ultimately breed and raise livestock for food.”
The Dispenzas believe it’s been worth the expense and backbreaking work to see their own children respect where their food comes from. At home, everyone tends the family garden and looks after a small menagerie of pet farm animals.
“It’s a much more natural, environmentally conscious life than when we were a part of the ‘boneless society’ of shrink-wrapped, over-processed supermarket food,” Frank says.
They also get satisfaction from educating their customers. Fat marbling is good, the right cut and thickness give you great texture, and for goodness’ sake, keep the bone in.
“We wouldn’t have gotten through the past year without the loyal Cloy’s customers, and we won’t survive the next few without new ones,” Frank says. “But that’s the gamble we’re preparing for. That’s why we got into this.”
Recently, he says, he looked up from the store counter and saw his grandfather’s former customer, Marco, now twenty years older.
Marco asked for a pig’s leg to make into prosciutto. He stared at Frank for a few seconds before the light went on. “Dispenza… I know that name!”