An extraordinary work ethic has moved Dave Alwan from cutting meat in his family’s butcher shop to winning recognition on the national stage.
If someone had asked Dave Alwan as a young man if he could ever imagine his family’s business affording him fame and fortune, he likely would have answered: “You get what you work for, not what you wish for.” It’s a motto Alwan, owner of Echo Valley Meats in Bartonville, has stood by since childhood. He brought home his first paycheck at the tender age of 11. “I remember I had to stand on a milk crate to reach the cutting table,” he says. “A hard work ethic was instilled in me at a young age by my father.”
After working at the family meat shop through high school and attending college for two years, Alwan realized that “no college textbook can prepare you for the real world. Starting from the ground up really gave me the education I needed to run a family-owned business. You have to know how to do every job in your business so you can understand what it takes to get every job done efficiently.”
The Alwan family has been making its mark in central Illinois ever since Dave’s grandfather opened a grocery store in Peoria in 1947. A third-generation meat processor, cattleman and farmer, Dave and his wife, Dawn, branched out to begin their own business, Echo Valley Meats. They wanted to expand beyond the retail market into wholesale specialty foods and begin offering his delicious meat products in a gift catalog. “In 1992, I bought a 150-acre farm named Echo Valley Farm,” he explains. “I decided to breed, raise and show Angus cattle. My knowledge of the meat industry gave me an insight into the breeding side of the cattle business. I know the meat business from conception to consumption.”
Alwan named his new venture after the farm’s cattle business. “Keeping the same name seemed a natural fit,” he says. Beginning with two employees, including himself, he ran a small retail store and began processing smoked meats. Today, Echo Valley Meats is a full-service retail/wholesale, catering, gift catalog and fundraising business. “Our business has been growing in leaps and bounds. We’ve been very fortunate and very lucky. And it all comes from hard work.”
That ethic is plainly visible. Alwan puts in 80 hours a week, claiming he’s only missed three days of work in 20 years. “There’s no such thing as calling in sick in my world. I totally love what I do!”
The Secret Recipe to Service
Echo Valley Meats specializes in what Alwan deems “that old-fashioned butcher-shop quality.” With the goal of becoming “the best ham and sausage maker ever,” Dave received his training in Germany, Denmark and elsewhere in Europe in order to enter what he terms “the virtual gourmet shopping market.”
“Our smoked hams and summer sausage are the best around,” he touts. “Most people make sausage with everything else they want to get rid of, but ours is made with pure quality meat. You won’t find a better sausage… Our products are superior, and our prices are very competitive.”
In addition, the business’ online catalog offers delicious meats and treats for the perfect gift idea. “We would love for family and friends to say “Wow!” when they receive a gift from Echo Valley Meats. It is my vision that our customers receive the best-quality meats at the best price. A package from Echo Valley Meats is a gift that is always the ‘right size, color and fit.’ Giving a gift from our catalog sends your message with delicious flavor.”
Local residents are not the only people who share a love for Echo Valley’s one-of-a-kind recipes. The company has won the Innovative Beef Recipe Award at the State of Illinois Meat Processors show, while Alwan has also received awards for his summer sausage recipe, including the 2001 “Grand Champion” title in the Illinois Association of Meat Processors Competition. In 2005, he won the Pork Innovation Award for his stuffed pork loin.
Echo Valley Meats hams are natural juice products without added water—factors in its high-quality taste. “Our spiral-sized honey-glazed hams won 96 out of 100 blind taste tests,” Alwan says. “Our hickory-smoked beef brisket is one of the most popular items on the planet,” he adds with a smile. Alwan himself has also been recognized for his talent as a past recipient of Peoria’s 40 Leaders Under Forty Award, and the Bartonville Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year Award. In addition, Echo Valley Meats has also received the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce’ Small Business Award.
Catering to the Best
Echo Valley Meats Catering provides a way for customers to sample all the business has to offer. The service offers an extensive range of items and services to satisfy customers’ every desire, from corporate catering, private dinners and formal weddings to backyard barbeques. “Our job is to make customers’ events exactly what they want them to be,” Alwan explains.
“We’ve catered to nearly every major corporation in Peoria. We also do ‘drop and go’ breakfasts and lunches for businesses in the central Illinois area. We’ll take our food in, set it up and leave, or provide a staff of servers. They will even prepare a catered event using the customers’ requested recipe.” Businesses can choose from formal to casual catering menus, including a variety of hors d’ oeuvres and appetizers, as well as hearty meals and delectable desserts.
Into the Shark Tank
Little did Alwan realize that a Sunday evening spent watching ABC’s Shark Tank would eventually take his business in a new direction—and showcase his talent nationwide. The popular TV show depicts businessmen across the country explaining their idea to a panel of investors in the hopes that one will bid on the idea and make a deal.
“I love the concept of the show, where hard work and knowledge of your business are key,” Alwan says. “I told my wife: ‘I’m going to try out for Shark Tank.’ I jumped on a plane to Los Angeles and spent 17 hours standing in line. It was a long and intense process, but I made it to the finals. The episode aired on April 5, 2013.”
Though Alwan did not secure a deal from the sharks, his appearance on the show brought him more success than he could have imagined. In fact, Shark Tank visited Echo Valley Meats to shoot an update for the fifth season of the show, which aired on October 4, 2013. “In the week following the broadcast, the media exposure skyrocketed our sales, both online and in our retail store,” he recalls.
Increased sales were not the only positive outcome from Alwan’s appearances on national television. He has since been requested to serve as a motivational speaker for universities, companies and business organizations.
“Since appearing on Shark Tank, lots of people have told me they think I have a dynamic personality,” he says. Following his TV debut, Alwan launched a website called DaveAlwanSpeaks.com, with the help of Cindy Byrd, a professional speaker, professor at Robert Morris College, and owner of Image Potential Training & Consulting. “It’s great to be able to use my business experience to inspire others. Giving back to the community that supports Echo Valley Meats and paying it forward by motivating others has so many rewards.”
Opportunities on the Horizon
Alwan recently signed a contract with Bill Kurtis, owner of Tall Grass Beef, an all-natural, organic beef line. “We’re becoming business partners,” he says. “I’m taking over the distribution of Tall Grass Beef and adding it to Echo Valley’s distribution. It’s exciting to see Echo Valley becoming a fulfillment center for other businesses. Natural grass-fed beef has increased in popularity and is a great addition to our online catalog and retail store.”
But for Alwan, business means more than just making a profit. “I’ve been offered a great deal of money for my business, but I don’t want to sell. If my son wants it, I’ll pass it onto him. There’s more to business than just making a profit. It’s the personal touch. It’s giving back and loving what you do. That’s real success.” iBi
Echo Valley Meats is located at 608 W. Garfield Ave in Bartonville. For more information, visit echovalleymeats.com or call (309) 697-0083.