East Coast Couple Finds Business Success at Franklin Locker
Harold and Rachel Colby were living in Lebanon, Maine, five years ago when they decided to move to rural Nebraska.
“We built a house (in Maine) and thought we’d stay there,” Rachel said. “The guys, my oldest son and Harold, would come down to Nebraska to go hunting, and so they would come back, and they were just miserable.”
The Colbys had lived in the Midwest when Harold worked as a police officer in Kansas, but they moved back to Harold’s hometown on the East Coast when his father became ill. After a few years of traveling to Nebraska for hunting season, the family decided to make the move permanent.
They moved to Bladen and continued their business of working in construction.
“We had our own business, like remodeling and stuff like that,” Rachel said. “It was fine. It was great, but it didn’t matter what we did. We just wanted to do something, and he’s always wanted a brick and mortar establishment.”
Harold was browsing through Craigslist when he saw the meat locker for sale in Franklin. They had previously visited Franklin for their son’s track meet and loved the small town.
“It’s just really nice here,” Rachel said. “Everyone was super friendly. It’s clean. It’s a nice little town.”
Harold inquired about the meat locker, but he learned it had already been sold. He told the owners to keep his number just in case the sale didn’t work out. A week later, he received a call that the sale had fallen through. One month later, they were the owners of Franklin Locker.
Harold has been an avid hunter since he was a child and had experience processing deer and bear, but he had little knowledge of processing domestic meat, such as beef and pork.
“So coming in here, it was just a blur at first,” Harold said. “There was so much to learn in such a short period of time. When you are dealing with somebody’s animal, there is no margin for error. It’s got to be right every time.”
The original owners stayed to show the Colbys the ropes for the first six months of ownership. Since then, they have visited other lockers in the area to learn about their processes.
“I think anybody that owns a locker, they are all very proud of what they have,” Harold said. “If you were to ask anybody, ‘How do you do this or that?’ they would probably tell you.”
Since taking over the business, Harold and Rachel have remodeled the building to add a more spacious retail section with more coolers filled with their products. They also added windows on the wall dividing the retail and processing spaces.
“Our end goal was, let’s say we’re washing our hands. We want people to be able to see us washing our hands,” Harold said. “If you are in here ordering lunch, you should be able to watch anything we do in the backroom. There are no secrets. When you are dealing with people’s foods, it’s total transparency.”
The coolers are filled with a variety of items from beef sticks to brats to homemade pizza. When customers began coming into the store, loading up on beef sticks to satiate their hunger at lunchtime, Rachel wanted to be able to provide a better option.
“It truly started with (her) smoked brisket,” Harold said. “We made some smoked brisket. We were just going to bring it up here for the weekend, and we put it on the sign, on Facebook and the sign out front. … We thought it was something they could take and make sandwiches out of or whatever.”
The popularity of the lunches skyrocketed as they began to offer fast and fresh meals each day. From pulled pork to steak and cheese sandwiches to burgers and brats, Franklin Locker would often have a line out the door of farmers, truck drivers, passersby and high school students. Customers could even get a heaping portion of dessert when the locker began selling hard-serve ice cream.
“I’m pretty sure some of the local people thought we lost our minds, but on the East Coast where I’m from, I think I only had soft-serve ice cream a handful of times as a kid. Everything is hard ice cream. And so when we came out, that was one of the things (Rachel) missed the most,” Harold said.
Due to the volume of business the Colbys had after the county fairs and now during hunting season, they discontinued serving lunch to focus on butchering and processing meat. They took in animals from nine county fairs this year from Nebraska and Kansas.
“We had to stop. We just couldn’t do it,” Harold said about the lunch offerings.
The couple is looking to simplify their lunch menu to still be able to provide meals for their hungry customers by offering food that doesn’t take as much time to serve and prepare. They will have deli sandwiches on hand that are ready to go any time of day, but they aren’t your typical bologna sandwich. Rachel refers to the sandwiches as “meat mountains.” She also plans to start offering soup later in the season.
With the volume of business the Franklin Locker receives, the Colbys have hired two full-time and one part-time employee, and their son Trenton, 17, helps out as well. The Colbys are parents to four children, and their youngest daughter, Kendall, 14, has recently developed an appreciation for what her parents do. She asked her father if she could go on the kill floor and see how the process takes place.
“It was funny her comment at the end of all that, or later on that evening,” Harold said. “She said she had a new appreciation for what we do. She didn’t realize how surgical and instant it was. There is no room for error. We do it right. We do it right every time. It was actually a pretty big compliment to hear that from my own daughter that she had a new respect for what we do.”
As their popularity and business continues to grow, the Colbys haven’t had a chance to think about what’s next for the Franklin Locker. They have tossed around the idea of adding on to their building or just giving the inside a facelift, but nothing is set in stone. For now they are focused on providing high-quality meat to their clientele.
Harold said their recipe for success in small town Nebraska is based upon the quality of work they provide their customers.
“If you do something for somebody, if you do it in the time frame, if you do the quality of work you promise and your cost isn’t ridiculous, they tell their neighbor,” Harold said. “And that neighbor tells two neighbors. Anybody can buy business cards, but you can’t buy somebody’s opinion. You can’t buy a referral from somebody and that’s really huge.”
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1106 16th Ave. Franklin, NE 68939
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday