Farmingdale Meat Market celebrates 75 years
Back in 1946, German immigrant Julius Seelig opened the Farmingdale Meat Market after a stint with Swift and Company in Newark. Fast forward 75 years later and grandson Lee has become the third generation to run the family business after his father Kent brought him aboard roughly 14 years ago. In the wake of the pandemic, Farmingdale Meat Market has done a number of things marking this major milestone including having a ribbon-cutting earlier this year, setting up an online website where people could post their memories and a number of various sales promotions.
For the younger Seelig, whose deep respect for his customer base led to his commissioning a banner in the store that reads “Thanks to you for 75 years,” the most impactful thing he and his team did was give out $75 gift cards for 75 straight days from the beginning of March through the middle of May. While the grand total came out to $5625, the payoff was immediate and meaningful in a way that went far beyond being a mere publicity stunt.
“We would just walk into the store at a random point of the day and hand someone a gift card,” Seelig explained. “People would ask what we were talking about and we’d tell that person they just won a $75 gift card. Some people started crying. They would tell us that COVID-19 has been so hard on them and this meat helps them a lot. Other people may not be financially struggling, but they thought [the act] was so awesome. We were just spreading the love. I thought this was a fun way to give back.”
The father of two wasn’t always slated to run the family business. After graduating from the University of Michigan Business School, Seelig spent a decade in the music industry working as a band manager and booking agent for jam bands. (“I tell people I was in the minor leagues of the music industry.”) While an eight-year stint spent managing Boston’s Addison Groove Project found the Syosset native booking his group at Irving Plaza and the Bonnaroo Music Festival, he wound up with his then-girlfriend and future wife Lainie living in Burlington, VT, wanting to start a family, but knowing he’d hit the music industry ceiling.
“[Addison Groove Project] did national tours, got solid, did okay but never got huge,” Seelig recalled.
He added, “We probably could have kept doing it and been poor. But the wife and the kids—after 10 years, I didn’t know if I was taking it further. I’ve taken it to this level and I while I could have kept doing it, my wife said if we were going to have kids, there were financials we had to consider. At that same time, the business here was crushing. My dad was doing awesome and said if I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do, maybe I should go and work for him. He said he could use me and given they were super busy and had a lot of workers, he said he could use someone to help on the management side of things.”
Seelig started out in the plant making hamburgers, driving and making deliveries, running the Cryovac machines and learning how to do basic meat cutting. As he worked his way up through the company, he moved into doing more sales, marketing and buying, eventually becoming, “…the guy who is overseeing everything.” Currently boasting an employee roll of 58, Farmingdale Meat Market did a major pivot when the pandemic hit. With restaurants and country clubs at the core of Main Street Wholesale Meats (the other business portion of the market that provides the bulk of the revenue), these clients weren’t ordering when the lockdown was instated. Seelig and his team acted fast, building out a website enabling them to do e-commerce and further expand the geographic footprint throughout the Tri-State area.
While the business is back to roughly 75 to 80 percent of its pre-pandemic revenue, major pain points included the inability to handle the increased demand.
“The pandemic forced us to develop the website at rapid speed versus it being something we thought we should eventually get around to doing,” Seelig said. “The main reason for the website was to have a way to automate the order-taking process. As much as we want to talk to everyone and take every order over the phone, you’ve got to evolve with technology. A lot of people don’t want to order on the phone because it’s annoying to them. To be totally honest, I would a million times over wish this wouldn’t have happened.”
While managing the personalities of customers, vendors and employees is quite a challenge on top of running his business day-to-day. Seelig finds plenty to be proud of given his current role.
“I didn’t seek out to be in the meat business; I’m in it because this is my family business and that’s what I have pride in,” he said. “I’ve always thought of my role as keeping it going and not screwing it up. I tell my kids that I’m the steward of what [my grandfather and father] did. I say to them that their opa and my opa created this awesome thing and now it’s my job to make sure that we carry this on and do a good job. The growth happens organically. We don’t plan to grow 15 percent this year. We just do our thing. It’s rewarding and the best thing about the job is seeing it continue to exist, be healthy, do well and employ people.”
The Farmingdale Meat Market is located at 210 Main St. in Farmingdale. Visit www.farmingdalemeatmarket.com or call 516-249-8200 to find out more information.