Metro-East News

He first wanted to be a veterinarian. Now he’s celebrating 30 years in the meat industry.

How Deli Star got its start in the metro-east

Dan Siegel talks about the beginnings of Deli Star. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
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Dan Siegel talks about the beginnings of Deli Star. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Dan Siegel initially wanted to be a veterinarian.

But when Siegel took a detour in classes and studied meat science at the University of Illinois, he realized that he had “developed a passion for meat.”

That interest led to a master’s degree and doctorate degree in meat science. After starting his career in the food industry, he co-founded Deli Star in 1987 in the metro-east.

One of Deli Star’s main accounts over the years has been providing meat for Landshire Sandwiches, which has made sandwiches in the metro-east for decades.

Deli Star in Fayetteville produces 13 million to 15 million pounds of cooked meat annually.

Deli Star produces all kinds of cooked beef, chicken, pork and turkey in its plant at 2516 Main Ave. in Fayetteville, where the company took over a plant there in 1989. The plant’s known for an iconic sign that features a large, black cow. Siegel and his brother, Tom, first started Deli Star near Waterloo in 1987.

Today, Deli Star meats are distributed to customers throughout the country and to the U.S. military.

Along with his work at Deli Star, Siegel has been a consultant with the Bemis Co., for whom he developed a patented way to keep meat fresh. He and his brother also bought King’s Food Products in Belleville.

Deli Star will celebrate its 30th anniversary by sponsoring Faye Fest at noon on Sept. 30 at Fayetteville Community Park next to the company’s plant. It will feature free admission and five bands.

Siegel, 64, of Belleville, recently met with the News-Democrat to talk about his career and Deli Star’s 30th anniversary:

Q: How did you get started in the food business?

A: “I went to college in pre-vet, so I wanted to become a veterinarian.”

But he didn’t get into the vet school at the University of Illinois.

“I went to the Department of Animal Science and the dean of agriculture had said, ‘Hey, why don’t you become a grad student in animal science. We have a new professor in from Wisconsin in the meat department. You can work on a master’s and then apply for vet school the following year, you’ll probably get in because you’ve got a little bit of experience.’ And so I did that and after a year, developed a passion for meat. I ended up with a master’s and Ph.D. in meat science.”

Q: What prompted you to start Deli Star in 1987?

A: “I always kind of had an entrepreneurial spirit and I just couldn’t quiet it. And I always wanted to do something myself. I would get into how much it cost to take raw meat and convert it into a finished product. And I’m like, I can do this.”

“We developed a relationship with Landshire, one of our biggest customers even today, which is (now) AdvancePierre Foods. Landshire sold out not too long ago to APF and now we still continue to make the bulk of the meat items that go on their sandwiches. Our niche, our really core competence was taking beef back in the day when we started stuffing it into a 4 1/2 inch diameter log that’s 40 inches long and then they can put that on big high-speed slicers and slice wafer-thin slices.”

Q: Your Fayetteville plant has had expansions over the years. What is the plant’s current size and how many pounds of cooked meat does the plant produce each year?

A: “When we moved here in 1989, we had 8,000 square feet. So we did an expansion shortly thereafter and now we’ve gone two or three more and today we have something like 60,000 square feet. Back in the day, if we did 10,000 pounds a week, we were paying for the electric bill. Today, you know, we’ll do upward of 350,000 pounds a week. We can do more than that, we have a little more capacity. We’re on pace to make 13 to 15 million pounds in a year.”

Q: Can you talk about Deli Star’s technological developments to keep food safe and fresh?

A: “We can make the cooking environment so consistent in a cabinet that we can cook at a lower temperature and for a longer time and get the same lethality on bacteria so we’re not damaging the product as much. It’s making its quality much better. We call it post-pasteurization because we cook the product after it’s packaged. The package is a barrier to the post process contamination of bacteria that can make you sick. There’s no way that bacteria can get back in there after that product has been lethalized by steam. Everything we do at Deli Star is post-pasteurized. Nothing leaves here where the bacteria hasn’t been completely killed and eliminated and that maximizes safety.”

“FreshCase was a technology I developed and invented while working with Bemis as a consultant.”

Siegel said food companies would apply high oxygen packaging to keep meat fresh. “And this high oxygen would soak into the meat and make it the consumer-preferred bright red color and everyone was happy. The problem was, it would only last maybe 12 days and then it would turn completely brown and it would taste terrible. And so they needed a better way to extend the shelf life of fresh meat.”

Siegel patented the FreshCase process in 2004 and sold it to Bemis in 2005.

“What it involves is adding compounding a little bit of sodium nitrite into the packaging film that’s used for vacuum packaging meat. After it’s packaged, all of the oxygen is eliminated and that the film is a barrier to the ingress of atmospheric oxygen. The meat will turn bright red from the nitrite, which converts to nitric oxide. The myoglobin in the meat binds to the nitric oxide and it makes it look like it’s oxygenated and it looks bright red and fresh and it will last four weeks.”

Q: You opened the St. Louis Innovation Center last year on North First Street in downtown St. Louis. What is Deli Star doing there?

A: “The St. Louis Innovation Center was something we need for sales and marketing and customer support and research and development. So Jared Case is our corporate chef, he is located at the center. He will come up with new recipes for almost every item we make. He will go and visit with the customer, identify their needs and what they want and then come back and tweak it at the Innovation Center, where we have a full-scale kitchen with all the tools that he needs.”

Siegel said Case developed a seared and sous vide, or “under vacuum,” chicken breast.

“It’s a whole new line. We bought a machine to sear the chicken breasts and then we individually vacuum package it after it’s seared and cook it under vacuum with a low temperature heat. It doesn’t dry out. It’s just delicious. I mean the tenderness, the flavor. Jared worked on the flavor like a chef does and created this flavor that will just knock your socks off.”

“Another thing we do there is we bring in customers and hold what we call the Deli Star University. We’ll get into how you can stabilize ham color in a vacuum package for packaging sandwiches like AdvancePierre. We’ll actually teach their people ... what the critical control points of packaging are in order to maximize the color life of the ham sandwich ... It’s a pretty good deal for them.”

Q: How many employees do you have and do you release company sales figures?

A: Deli Star has 55 full-time employees and King’s Food Products has 15, with 20 temporary employees when there is high demand for the company’s fudge products in the fall. The family-owned firm does not release sales figures.

Q: What is the outlook for your industry and your business?

A: “I just see a big outlook for meat and animal protein. We’ve been kind of misled about our diet over the years with the dietary guidelines and that’s coming back to bite us ... The near future for Deli Star is very good because of the products that we have developed. Convenience items that consist of high quality meat, protein is a sustainable way to maintain our business.”

Q: How has Deli Star been able to thrive for three decades?

A: “Not getting too far in the red and not taking money out of the company unless it was absolutely necessary. I think one of the core values that I had with founding the company was not to get rich quick but to sell at a competitive price, a good product, a healthy, safe product and not gouge the customer.”

“The working atmosphere, the benefits we supply to the employees, the care we take with our employees is different than I see anywhere else.”

About Dan Siegel

  • Jobs: Chairman and owner of Deli Star Corp. in Fayetteville, co-owner of King’s Food Products in Belleville and consultant to Bemis Co., a multinational corporation.
  • Family: Wife, Judy, handles accounting, record keeping and payroll for Deli Star; son, Justin, is president of Deli Star; son, Andrew, is director of supply chain for Deli Star; and son, Derek, is an attorney in Belleville.
  • Contact: www.delistarinc.com or 877-677-2282.
  • His outlook for Deli Star: “The near future for Deli Star is very good because of the products that we have developed. Convenience items that consist of high quality meat, protein is a sustainable way to maintain our business.”
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