The Sackett name has deep roots in the Big Horn community. In the late 1880s, John Henry Sackett toured the area during his stint as a hunter and guide for the Buffalo Bill Wild West show. He fell in love with the Bighorns, and when he grew tired of traveling, he moved his family from Nebraska to Big Horn, where he partnered with Charles Skinner to open the town’s first market. At first, the pair would bring provisions back from the trains in Cheyenne and sell the goods out of their wagons. Eventually, they opened a storefront, Big Horn Mercantile, that now serves brick oven pizza and is still owned by the Skinner family today.
As the great-great-grandson of John Henry Sackett, Paul Sackett Haworth and his wife Christina are following in the footsteps of their ancestors, right down to a Wyoming kid marrying a Nebraska girl and returning to the area to raise their family and carry on the proud roots of a small, local market with a focus on community, quality goods and service. It’s a business model that seems out of fashion in the modern age of big box stores and imported products, but this is what the Haworths like best – filling a niche in the center of a town where local is their biggest asset.
A CENTURY LATER
Standing behind the glass deli case at Sackett’s Market filled with neat rows of ribeyes and porterhouses, Paul Haworth sampled a piece of roast beef, slathered in his homemade rub, fresh from the oven.
“Now that’s good,” he said, waving his hands in the air for emphasis, eyes widening behind his glasses. “There’s nothing better than a roast fresh out of the oven.
This is what goes into their roast beef sandwiches, he added. Not something fresh off a truck wrapped in plastic, but beef that is locally sourced and free of chemicals, additives, preservatives and all that other garbage.
Meanwhile, Christina busily shuffled behind the counter making sandwiches to order for the half-dozen customers waiting among the cluster of tables in the front half of the store.
Paul continued to talk meat and food in general. Being in the middle of things, talking to customers about the different smoke flavors in his bacon and variety of spices in his sausages and brats fires him up, as he offered samples and talked about the crawfish feed he was planning to serve at his son’s upcoming graduation barbecue.
What can he say? He’s a guy who loves food, and whose life has always been governed by his taste buds. Now that he runs his own show, he is picky about what he stocks in his cases and on his shelves.
“I’m not going to serve anything I wouldn’t eat myself,” he said. “Period.”
He also believes in supporting local ranchers and growers and sources his meat products and produce locally. All of his meat, produce and dairy products are grass-fed or non-GMO and hormone-free. Quality is the biggest requirement.
And he’s picky. Right down to the packaged bags of organic pork rinds and specialty breads that he and the staff try out before carrying. That means sending employees home with a product and then discussing it with a vote the next day.
As Paul points out, food is too important, and he’s not messing around. He’s been like this his entire life, even when globe-trotting the world by sea in his former life as a boat builder who traveled the world.
His wife Christina jokes that while some people bar hop or go sightseeing when they travel, Paul sniffs out the restaurants and grocery stores, particularly the small, mom-and-pop shops that for him have their own unique sub-culture. The pair met decades ago in Florida where they both worked on the docks. Paul built power boats, and Christina, an interior designer, did the decorating. Eventually, they taught themselves to sail with a copy of Sailing for Dummies, and hit the ocean. They toured all over the world, where Paul was able to refine his palette with any number of culturaly unique and different cuisines.
Eventually, with two young children, the couple gave up their nomadic life at sea and, in 2004, bought Clark’s Meat Market in Riverton and moved back to Paul’s home state of Wyoming. Neither knew anything about meat or butchering, but Clark showed him the ropes, and more importantly, an appreciation for providing good food.
“He would eat hamburger right out of the grinder,” Paul said. “He was this tough, old Marine, and believed that if you can’t eat it raw, then you shouldn’t bother selling it.”
It was a short learning curve, and within a couple years, the couple had doubled the business and were spending too much time on the road making deliveries. As their kids got older, they sold out to Paul’s older brother and moved to the Sheridan area nearly a decade ago, and opened Sackett’s Market, where Paul continues to carry on the rich legacy of his family’s history. Like his great-great-grandfather, he treats the market as an integral part of the community, and he and Christina make it a habit to talk to their customers and create a laid-back and welcoming environment where people feel at home, comfortable coming to just hang out and know that they’re going to walk away with hands or stomachs full of good food made with heart and trust.
A Cut Above the Rest
Along with buying all their produce and other goods locally, they also believe in hiring and training from the college down the street.
Like culinary graduate and Crow Heart native Eddie Collins, who at 26 is learning the ropes from Paul, as the pair hand carve steaks, grind hamburger, link sausage and custom cut to order. Collins, who grew up ranching and took ag classes in college, has the right skills for the job he loves doing.
Eddie is a natural, according to Paul, who watched him meticulously carve out a cullotte, the teardrop curve or “baseball” on the top of a sirloin, which both agree is one of their best cuts, and in most cases, can’t find anywhere else.
The Haworths are big on the farm-to-table philosophy, which entails both teaching people where their food comes from, being responsible stewards of the land and animals, and sourcing locally.
To this end, they enjoy working with local 4-H and FFA kids to create home-cooked dinners, like the recent one they did this past spring with students in the Cotton Wood kitchen, serving the meat from animals bought in the live auction with everyone having a hand in the cooking and serving.
“This community has been good to us, and we like to pay back the favor,” he said.
A Model That Works
And not one you can find just anywhere. Like the big chain stores that don’t feel obligated to source locally for a lower price point. Customers will pay more at Sackett’s, Paul noted, where it’s about quality and community, and that just costs more.
He’s also added seafood into the mix, like wild caught shrimp, walleye, lobster and other delicacies, with some of it packaged on the boat and shipped directly to them.
It’s a model that works, according to Paul, who initially had a hard time selling it to the local lenders, who told them that the farm-to-table model just wouldn’t work in the age of big box stores that drive down cost and prices.
At Sacketts, all of their meats are either ground, cut or made into sausage in the back room. Their hamburger is all beef and their steaks are hand cut to precision or customer order, and more than anything else as far as Paul is concerned, they genuinely enjoy doing it, which might be the award-ingredient.
“It’s a pride thing,” Paul said, as he watched over Eddie’s shoulder as he trimmed off the fat that will later be turned into a butter. And don’t get Paul started on how good mushrooms taste sautéed in that butter, or you’ll be there for a while.
By: Jen C. Kocher
Photos: Adam D. Ritterbush