Farmers and ranchers were among the original Hill Country entrepreneurs, taking the fruit of the land and turning it into marketable goods for consumers long before anyone up in Austin coined the term “Silicon Hills.” And it was into a long line of those enterprising Central Texas folks that Cheryl Koch Ludwick of San Antonio was born. Descended from nineteenth-century German immigrants who once sold fresh produce and milk to Fort Sam, today the attorney-turned-businesswoman is a partner in her family’s business, Koch Ranches.
“We were weekend ranchers my whole life, growing up,” said Ludwick. “After my dad [Anthony Koch] bought a ranch in 1961, he did his CPA stuff during the week and on weekends we’d go out to the ranch. I learned how to build fences, feed cattle. I grew up with that as part of my weekend life. But, no, I didn’t see it as my main focus.”
Their current business began in earnest in 2010 when the family began selling meat from their rural property at farmers markets. Soon after they began selling shares of their produce harvest, part of the nationwide community-supported agriculture (“CSA”) movement. Five years ago the family took over a retail sales space off of Broadway in San Antonio.
“The storefront itself has approximately 400 square feet, but we’ve added on and up to the rest of it and we’re already outgrowing the space,” said Ludwick.
The retail space has an industrial kitchen attached, one that allows the company to prepare an array of ready-made meals in both single and double portions for freezing. They can also heat up items for pick-up or delivery. On the takeaway menu are meatballs, Jamaican goat curry, braised lamb, mojo-seasoned pork, and creamy chicken enchilada casserole—among others. Need something to pick up something to pop into your slow cooker? They’ve got goat stew, beef chili enchilada, and wild boar mole. Pies, cakes, cobblers, and sweet and savory snacks—many of them Paleo or gluten-free—round out the store’s on-site kitchen offerings.
The common thread that runs through the menu and the store? Delicious, all-natural food, most of it with Texas ties although they do carry a few imported specialty items.
The central focus remains, however, on the meat.
“We say our meat is ‘green grassfed’ because it’s from the green grass that the improved nutrition and flavor profile come. In most places, grassfed beef should only be seasonal, when the grass is green. But because we irrigate our land all year [with water sourced from free-flowing artesian Edwards Aquifer wells], we’re able to make it available to our customers,” said Ludwick, adding that the Koch Ranch meat is certified by the American Grassfed Association. “People that feed hay to cattle usually aren’t raising it themselves, so there’s no way to know what pesticides are used on the grass. And grain? Cattle aren’t meant to be fed grain. They can’t digest it. It makes their bodies too acidic and that gets transferred into our food. And that’s why our green grassfed beef is so important and distinctive.”
Ludwick’s commitment to food quality extends from her family’s ranch land to the front cases of the retail store—loaded with beef, lamb, goat, and wild hog in various cuts from the family’s ranch—through to company’s handmade fermented juices, kimchee, fresh nut butters, protein bites, and salsa.
“Meats are our focus, so we do the most with them,” she said. “Our goal with all of our products is the same, to find things to help restore and improve your health.”
Outreach and education about the importance of locally sourced foods are important to Ludwick, too, and she is proud of her company’s role in establishing the cozy Alamo Heights Farmers Market on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Quarry Market. She also makes an appearance at the Pearl Weekend Market on Saturdays.
“On Sundays, we bring along an assortment of steaks, roasts, patties, ground sausage year round, but we do sell out on occasion. We generally only take a sampling of things to Pearl. But folks can always call ahead to the store and order what they need and meet us to pick it up at the market. We’re happy to do that for our customers.”
Spoken like a true Hill Country entrepreneur.
Story and photographsy by Pamela Price