By Connor Lynch
CRYSLER — When Brian and Elisabeth Vandenberg took over Desormeaux Meats, a Crysler butcher shop and abattoir one year ago, business was brisk from the get-go.
Then in the middle of the night Brian got a call. “Are you the new owner of Desormeaux? I just wanted to let you know that your place has been on fire. We’ve got everything under control, but we’d like you to come.”
The Vandenbergs had owned the business for one month.
Someone woke up in the middle of the night to answer a call of nature, saw a red glow and called 911. The fire department was there in seven minutes, Brian Vandenberg said. “That call saved the building.”
The fire was likely caused by an electrical failure and most repairs were from water damage, he said.
It was extensive. Only the bones of the building were salvageable. Vandenberg spent four months going back and forth with his insurance company, fighting for a better offer than the one on the table. “Problem was, how do you evaluate an abattoir? What are they worth when no one wants one?”
Despite the hurdles, he won his fight. “Once that happened, I said, ‘Here’s my green light, let’s get ‘er done.’”
They replaced what was left of the roof, extended the coolers and built new retail space. A year to the day later, Desormeaux Meats (its name comes from the previous owner) re-opened April 21, 2020 in the middle of a pandemic and country-wide lockdown.
By April 24, business was humming along. Beef orders for slaughter are already booked four weeks ahead. The Vandenbergs are working 14-hour days to keep up. They have a steady stream of retail customers: “As soon as one leaves, another comes,” said Vandenberg. Orders are done by pickup, with customers picking up a brown paper bag from a picnic bench outside, placed there through a sliding window. Despite the doubts and frustrations, it’s all been worth it. “Today, if I didn’t rebuild, I’d be kicking myself.”
The Vandenbergs were Winchester dairy farmers with four kids, and without a successor, sold the 55 milking cows to a Belleville couple. Looking for a new venture, it occurred to Vandenberg that abattoirs were something of a dying industry but every farmer needed one. He went looking and talking to various owners before running into Jean-Guy Desormeaux, then 74, who was looking to retire.
They spent a year together, with the Vandenbergs learning the ropes even though they lived 40 minutes away, before Desormeaux retired.
“There was a desire on both parts,” Vandenberg said. “A desire for me to learn, to give this a shot.”
EASTERN ONTARIO: Farmer buys abattoir, then it catches fire
By Connor Lynch