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For years, The Chalet Market in Belgrade has been our family’s favorite go-to stop for deli sandwiches when we’re passing through Belgrade. In addition to a sandwich (my favorite being the beer sausage on whole wheat), we’ll take home some jerky and sausage. I’m a big fan of the beer sausage on whole wheat while my hubby Ed prefers the Reuben. We never leave without picking up some buffalo jerky and the Chalet’s signature Honey Mustard.

It’s easy for me to get distracted in the Chalet, where the deli shares space with a distinct variety of gifts — jewelry, hats, totes, wallets, soaps, mugs, etc., stuffed floor to ceiling. Many of the items are Made in Montana products, such as huckleberry jams and syrups, Béquet caramels, Eva Gates Homemade Preserves, Montana Coffee Traders, Hungry Horse Flap Jacks Mix, and Caramel Cookie Waffles.

A case with all the assortments of sausages and salami produced on-site, along with a second case filled with a generous selection of cheese, round out the offerings inside the Chalet.

The Chalet Market was founded in 1976 by an innovative group of ranchers who saw the need for a local outlet to sell their meat. The Market’s claim to fame is their smoked sausages and salami, jerky, bacon, and Snack Stix, using elk, bison, beef, and pork in their products. When the business came up for sale in 2012, Montana natives Gwen and Mark Croghan jumped at the chance to change careers, and bought the company.

Gwen had previously worked at the Harley-Davidson dealership nearby, and Mark had been a stonemason. Mark had always wanted to be involved in the food industry, and no doubt, the Chalet Market has more than fulfilled that goal, with the meat plant smoking between 1,800-2,000 lbs. of meat each week.

I was curious about how you transition from laying stone to smoking meat. Mark had a bit of help from Bonnie Knadler, who had worked in the plant for 30 years. He took a few workshops on sausage making, but beyond that, Mark is self-taught. When the Croghans purchased the meat plant, all the recipes were passed on to them from the previous owner. The meats are hickory smoked with Mark spicing things up with his concoctions, such as the Pineapple Teriyaki Snack Stix, Buffalo Cranberry Salami and Habanero Beef Jerky.

What happens in the back of the Chalet where the meat plant is located was a complete surprise to me. The Chalet Market is a USDA meat plant, one of just a few in Montana. A USDA inspector shows up every day to check things over. The Market is required to give the inspector an office on site. There are set hours for the meat plant — they can only process from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Between 20%-25% of each day is spent cleaning the meat plant facility, including the equipment.

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While Mark’s domain is the meat plant, Gwen wears many hats, including bookkeeping, overseeing the deli and gift shop, and managing their very successful online retail business. The Chalet specializes in crafting gift boxes (photos on their website) filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, and Made in Montana goodies. During the upcoming holiday season, they will send out between 3,800-4,000 gift boxes. As of Nov. 23, the Chalet Market has a holiday kiosk in the Gallatin Valley Mall, making it very convenient to pick up gift boxes.

Lynette Seavey manages the deli, which daily features homemade soup, salads, sandwiches and cookies, along with specials for both breakfast and lunch. The monthly menu is posted online. From mid-May to mid-October, a trailer in the parking lot serves burgers, bratwurst, a few grilled sandwiches and fries. There are picnic tables in a covered breezeway for the convenience of customers.

While I was talking with Gwen and Mark, a stream of locals (mostly men) stopped in to pick up sandwiches and grab a Snack Stix from the jar on the counter before leaving. “This place is like a candy store for grown men. We always have a jar filled with Snack Stix for purchase and guys can’t resist, always grabbing one before they head out the door," Gwen said.

To me, Gwen and Mark exemplify the Montana spirit — hard-working, honest folks, juggling the challenges of running a multi-tiered business with raising their two sons. In 2018, they won Retailer of the Year at the Made in Montana Tradeshow from their peers.

I see contented employees, a result of Gwen and Mark setting the tone for a positive environment. And I see happy customers pass through the doors of Chalet Market. This doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a commitment by this Montana couple and their staff to log in the hours it takes to make their business successful and well-respected.

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Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, currently freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.

TheLastBestPlates.com is a digital destination that serves up Montana's tasty food, travel and culture stories … one bite at a time.

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