Man Cave Craft Meats: From Farmers Market to Mass Distribution

Nick Beste, president of Man Cave Craft Meats, is fueled by a “foodie passion with business junkie mentality.”

Nick Beste

Founded by Beste and Kevin Carlow while still enrolled at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management, Man Cave specializes in craft meats like bacon-egg-and-cheddar breakfast sausages, sriracha chicken sausages, haberno cheddar angus beef patties, green chile chicken breasts, and Cajun pork chops.

The name Man Cave was created as a reflection of the company’s founders, rather than the target market. “We were in a crappy office, much like a man cave,” 28-year-old Beste says. At one point, the Man Cave name was thrown around. “It was catchy and people seemed to smile when you said it, so it stuck.”

After many meetings, taste-testing, and recipe development, the founders figured out what to include in their initial product line. Once products were decided on, Man Cave found a local cold packer to produce the meats in small batches and began selling at the Minneapolis Farmers Market in 2009. “The Farmers Market was a huge tool for us,” Beste says. “The lines kept getting longer and longer every weekend.”

It wasn’t long until Lunds and Byerlys [a Minnesota-based chain of upscale grocery stores] came calling. In 2013, that chain began selling Man Cave products in all 26 of its stores. “We haven’t looked back since,” Beste says. Man Cave products are now available in over 500 stores throughout the Midwest, from Jewel-Osco in Chicago to Dierbergs in St. Louis to Price Jumper in Kansas City to Hy-vee in Iowa.

Challenges came along with growth, including hiring and managing the current staff of 20 full-time and 9 part-time employees, making nutrition labels, and figuring out how to make small batches of meat products on a large scale. Beste credits trial-and-error as well as patience to overcoming those hurdles and nurturing the company’s growth.

“It takes time for people to see a new product and take a chance on it,” he says. “Then they try it and like it, and then they forget about it.” To keep the product at the forefront of consumers’ minds, Man Cave hosts in-store samplings and demos, participates in events like St. Paul Saints baseball games, and maintains a presence at festivals.

Throughout its evolution, Man Cave has not wavered when it comes to its commitment to quality. “The biggest thing for us has been not stopping until it’s perfect,” Beste says. “It’s easy to get caught up in, ‘If we change this, we could save a penny,’ and that’s the way a lot of people push you, especially retailers. We almost did the opposite, [asking] ‘What would make this the best possible product?’ and we don’t stop until we get there, regardless of what it takes.”

Beste believes customers taste those high standards; that refusing to settle is what makes Man Cave meats “authentically good” rather than “all right.”

It would appear the marketplace agrees. The company recently closed on $2 million in additional funding and just launched a new line of turkey burgers, chicken sausage, pork chops, and chicken breasts. “They’re amazing,” Beste says. “The turkey burgers are actually juicy and moist and taste good. Can you believe it? They’re not sawdust on cardboard.”

This fall, the company will also roll out new lines of pre-cooked ribs, pre-cooked meatballs, a kielbasa-style sausage, and a pre-cooked breakfast item. The Man Cave team won’t stop there, however. “We see ourselves as the craft beer of the meat aisle,” Beste explains. “Innovation is paramount to craft industry.”