THE PERFECT CUT
BY Shea Swenson
Old-school butchering is alive and well in the Flathead Valley at Perfect Cuts in Columbia Falls.
It only takes a minute of watching Karla Hansen with a razor-sharp knife and a slab of meat to realize you are witnessing an artist at work.
She expertly maneuvers a knife through what will eventually become her famous beef jerky with an ease that could only come from immense skill and years of day-in and day-out practice.
Karla has both. She and her husband Dan started Perfect Cuts, a family-owned and operated butcher shop, in Columbia Falls in October 2001. They intended to run the shop for maybe 10 years. “Now it’s been nearly 19 years, and people are begging us to stick around for another 19,” Karla says.
Dan’s experience as a butcher started over 40 years ago in Fort Benton, Montana, where he apprenticed under an old-school butcher. It was after attending a grand opening of a grocery super-store in Missoula that he and Karla decided to open a meat shop of their own. They
realized they could offer something more to customers. Something better.
So, with a passion for excellent products and the goal of keeping the art of butchering alive, Dan and Karla built Perfect Cuts from the ground up.
“When you start something like this, people say, “Oh, it’s never going to work. Butchering is a dying art.” Karla said. “Well, that’s why we started it; because it is a dying art.”
Flash forward, and Karla still spends 10-12 hours in the shop, often 6-7 days a week, and business is booming. Dan has mostly retired, about 80 percent, according to Karla. Their daughter Leslie Hansen Clewien now works there full time, running the office side of the business – doing the books, taking orders and helping customers, among other things.
Leslie moved with her children from Oklahoma to the valley four years ago so they could be closer to family. While some mother/daughter relationships may not be well suited for a business partnership, Leslie and Karla make a great team. Brilliantly business savvy, hardworking, and caring toward the product, customers and staff, the two keep the place running like a well-oiled machine.
Along with the family’s knack for establishing relationships with customers, it’s the quality cuts that keep people coming back.
Karla and Leslie source as much meat locally as they can. And when it isn’t from Montana, it’s from regional sources in the Northwest. The meat is all grass-fed and grain-finished, meaning there are no hormones or antibiotics in any of it, and then they age it to perfection.
Almost everything at Perfect Cuts is done by hand. The filleting, tenderizing, seasoning, smoking and packing of the meat all happens right in the store.
“Everything you see out there [on the shelves], we do all that stuff,” Leslie said. “It’s all hand-done, it’s all our own recipes.”
Those extra steps, the attention to detail, and the genuine passion for providing the best meat they can, set the shop a cut above the rest.
“We spend more time with the product,” Leslie said. “We value quality over quantity.”
Exceptionally tender flat iron steaks, perfectly hot-smoked baby back ribs, and deliciously spicy jalapeño honey beef jerky are just a few of the most frequent buys at the shop.
To season the store’s perfect cuts, Karla even created her own dry rub recipe.
“I used to make it in five-pound batches and send it home with anyone who got a prime rib,” Karla said. These days, she makes it five or six times a year in 500-pound batches to keep up with demand.
In addition to in-store sales, the shop takes special orders – for a family who wants a special steak night, local restaurants that need to stock their coolers, or shipping to out-of-state fans who can’t live without Perfect Cuts.
As Autumn settles in the Flathead Valley, the Perfect Cuts team will be busy with the influx of special orders the season brings. That means smoking turkeys and prepping hundreds of prime ribs to grace the holiday tables of numerous families.
Through all of the business’s success, the customers and the community are still both Leslie and Karla’s favorite part of the job.
“I’m always out front gabbing and getting to know people,” Leslie said. “I like to hear their stories. I like to hear about their trips. I like to know where they are going next. We have built some really good relationships, and that’s my favorite part.”
For Karla, the best part is knowing the customer is pleased with Perfect Cuts’ products and the food they take home. “That’s our top priority,” she said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have a business.”
Just as they have fostered genuine relationships with members of the community, they have done the same within the business itself. While Leslie, Dan, and Karla may be the only blood relatives at the shop, the family mentality extends to all of the handful of employees at Perfect Cuts.
“We are a small group here; we are like family here,” Leslie said. “We fight like family. We love like family.” The pair takes the livelihood of their employees and their families very seriously. “Knowing there are six families that depend on us keeps me going,” Karla said. “We always keep that in mind.” And just like a family, at the end of a long day of work, the Perfect Cuts team warmly says goodbye. “At the end of the day, all the employees hug goodbye,” Karla said. “We say goodnight; I love ya. See you tomorrow.”
Stock up on Perfect Cuts at 1030 3rd Avenue East in Columbia Falls. Open 8 AM to 6 PM Monday through Friday, and Saturday from 8 AM to 4 PM. Keep up with their latest specials on Facebook or by calling (406) 892-3718.
Almost everything at Perfect Cuts is done by hand. The filleting, tenderizing, seasoning, smoking and packing of the meat all happen right in the store.
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