Earlville meat locker changes hands after 38 years

EARLVILLE, Iowa — After 38 years, Dan Wheeler has sold his Earlville meat locker business.

Dan’s Locker is the only remaining business of the type in Delaware County. Wheeler had owned it since 1984.

The locker was opened in 1947 by John Clute under the name Earlville Locker. It was later renamed Evers Frozen Foods under the ownership of Gary Evers. It was under Evers’ ownership that Wheeler first began his venture into the meat locker business at the age of 6 helping his uncle.

“I was a little kid when I first started working there,” said Wheeler. “… I’ve been around it all my life, so that’s where I got into the business.”

In 1973, Wheeler became a full employee of Evers Frozen Foods at the age of 15, eventually rising to the position of manager after Evers purchased Manchester Locker and had to divide his attention between the businesses.

“I started out doing slaughtering, and after I graduated high school, I started working full time,” Wheeler recalled. “They taught me how to cut meat, and a couple of years later when he bought the Manchester Locker, he wanted someone to run the Earlville one because he was doing slaughtering for both plants at the time.”

In 1984, Evers sold the business to Wheeler. Wheeler was 26 and said the purchase was largely a method of preserving the job he came to know.

“He was going to sell it and the opportunity was there for me to buy it or probably go find a different job since I didn’t know who was going to buy it,” said Wheeler. “I was just securing my job by purchasing it at the time, and I knew the business. … I took a chance, the bank went along with me, and the rest is history, as they say.”

Wheeler said it was a bit awkward taking over the company, due to his youth and the fact that he had senior family members as employees.

“It was a bit challenging because I had a cousin and a couple of aunts working there at the time, and I had to be their boss, even though they were much older than me,” he said. “We got along fine, and they taught me a lot.”

With the name of the business now changed to Dan’s Locker, Wheeler spent the next 38 years growing the business and customer base.

While the business started slow, Wheeler said, it picked up over the years, developing a strong loyal customer base that has sustained it while other lockers closed down in Manchester, Hopkinton and Delhi.

With Wheeler turning 65 this year, he decided it was time to retire and sell the locker to Adam Ryan, of Ryan, a young man he has known for years and knew would carry on the business with a good work ethic.

“I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to retire,” Wheeler said. “It was time to move on if I had the chance and a gentleman came to me who was interested and wanted to know if I’d stick around and help train him. I agreed because you can’t just walk into this business without knowing what’s going on.”

While Ryan is now the owner, he plans to retain the name Dan’s Locker and change nothing about the way the business is run. Wheeler plans to stay on as an adviser until June 1.

“It’s all going to be business as normal, as if I never left,” Wheeler said.