The Tony Downs Foods company closed its St. James location on the afternoon of Friday, May 30.

The smell of freshly cooked bacon will no long be wafting its way through the St. James morning air, as the original branch of Tony Downs Foods Company officially shut its doors Friday, May 30.  The food plant, which made bacon bits for Hormel, has been in St. James for 67 years and had been a major employer and contributor to the city’s economy.

“It’s very disappointing to close the home of Tony Downs Food Company,” said Company Owner Dick Downs at Friday’s employee sendoff lunch.  “The people here, many have worked for my father, then my brother, then me, and now Mike Downs.  From killing chickens, to macaroni and cheese, hams, frozen foods and bacon bits, we‘re proud of all those experiences, the relationships we’ve build, and look forward to continuing those relationships with those at our other plants.”

When news broke in January about the plant’s plan to close on May 30, roughly 75 jobs were up in the air.  Now that closing day had come and gone, Downs was happy to report that all employees who wanted to stay with the company have been retained, and will be relocating to the Tony Downs Foods buildings in either Butterfield or Madelia.

Downs personally introduced himself to all the employees in attendance at the lunch, and served steaks and baked potatoes.  Downs asked them which branch they were moving to, what their new jobs would entail, and if they were excited about the change.   He also assured them that they could come to him with problems that may come up in the future.

“We are thankful for everyone that stayed with us. We were able to give them all a retention bonus and they came in today to collect that.  I’m happy we could share it with them. We’re not just looking for jobs for people, but fits that they’ll thrive in.  I hope that all the people that want to stay with the company do so,” said Downs.

This is good news for the city of St. James.  Not only will members of the community keep their jobs, most of them are expected to stay in their current living arrangements in town.  However, the plant’s shut down will still impact the local economy in a big way.

According to St. James City Manager Joe McCabe, the city won’t know the exact economical impact until September, but is anticipating a net loss of $67,000 worth of utility revenue.
Although a newly built line by Armour-Eckrich may be able to replace up to half the lost utilities revenue, the city is working with Tony Downs Foods to bring a new company to the plant.

“Our team is looking for opportunities for this facility.  We haven’t been able to get any interest so far.  Efficiency is far more important than capital cost today, and people are more interested in building new, specialized plants than moving into old ones, but that isn’t stopping us,” explained Downs.

The Tony Downs Foods plant has been a big part of the local area since the early 50s, and even though the Downs family will continue to have a presence in Watonwan County, they are sad to no longer have their first plant up and running.

“This is Tony’s original plant.  It’s a dark day for me. I actually took it for granted, I thought this plant would last forever, and it hasn’t.” said Downs.  “That doesn’t mean we’ll forget about it.”

With his last action at the plant, Downs took the time to acknowledged his employees and all thouse who have helped the company.

“Thank you to everyone that in any shape or form helped throughout the years and that continue to help us now.”