By David Jones
This generous North Carolina company is an institution in the state’s pork industry, and next year it’s celebrating 100 years in business.
This is a story about wealth. But a different kind of riches.
Make no mistake about it; the Neese Country Sausage Company is very successful. But it’s the riches of rewards that set it apart, which comes with being caring and giving.
In fact, North Carolina Pork Council (NCPC) CEO Deborah Johnson, in presenting the 2009 Lois G. Britt Service Award to an entire family for the first time, singled the Neeses out for their “outstanding and dedicated service” to the pork industry. Lois Britt devoted her life to agriculture, education and service to the pork industry. It was a fitting selection.
A bit of background
The company will celebrate 100 years of hard work in 2017. Its history dates back to a family of immigrants who came to America in the early 1700s. In 1769, George Neese (born 1744) moved to what is now Guilford County, North Carolina, traveling through the Shenandoah Valley from Berks County Pennsylvania.
They were farmers, blacksmiths, horse and cattle traders. They harvested almost everything they ate, and prior to 1900 were making sausage for home consumption. By 1917, J.T. Neese was selling sausage and delivering it in a “prairie schooner” covered wagon like the ones used in the country’s great western movement. J.T. (Mr. Thede) began making sausage with a hand grinder.
The “special recipe” for Neese’s Sausage was created by Mr. Thede in the early 1900s. He developed just the right proportions of ham and other pork cuts, and added the perfect seasonings of salt, sage, pepper and a few secret ones that only family members know about.
In the 1920s, Mr. Thede’s wife, Annie Smith Neese, stirred up another famous Neese recipe for liver pudding. “Miss Annie” ground pork livers and other choice pork cuts and seasoned them with herbs and spices. She added just enough corn meal to hold it together.
By 1925, a Dodge screen-sided truck had been obtained. Sausage was made and packaged at night and by day break, Mr. Thede was delivering sausage in Greensboro and High Point.
Those green trucks that deliver the goods remain a standard of Neese to this day.
A tradition of giving
The family is one of great pride and appreciated by many. But it’s not the dollars in their pockets that makes those who know them beam with pride. It’s not the bank book that sets them apart as some of the special people that helped build a deep, rich tradition in North Carolina.
It’s their hearts.
You see, along the way to becoming an institution, they also became some of the kindest people anyone in the pork industry have ever seen. The Neese family would be among the richest folks you would ever read about even if they never made a dollar. They are tycoons of the heart, and so many things that the Neese company and family has done has been done quietly.
“We have an internal goal here: Each year, typically what we try to do is give 10 percent back to the outside community,” said Tommy Neese, president of Neese Sausage Company, who also serves as past president of the North Carolina Meat Processors Association in addition to a dedicated involvement in the NCPC board.
“I will tell you this, honestly, in the last several years we have gone and surpassed that by a lot. There are a lot of things we try to do that I know I personally walk up and say, ‘Here’s the check, and let me tell you something, if this gets out that I handed you this check, you will never hear from me again. I don’t want any notoriety; I don’t want any publicity. This is because I believe in what you are doing….’”
Learning from Mr. Tom
Tommy Neese, son of Mr. Tom, watched his father reach into his pocket generously and followed his lead. The Neese history is about sausage, but it’s also about something you often rarely see in today’s business world: helping others.
“[Mr. Tom, now 82 years young] is the one who has engrained this in our minds,” Tommy said. “There are a couple of reasons why we want to stay below the radar. We just don’t want notoriety. We’ve got what we call a great family of employees here. My dad does it every day, he will walk to the back and talk to every single employee. He’ll say, ‘Hey, how’s your daughter? She’s in her first year at UNC-G, right?’ He will go back and talk to every employee. He’s always done that.”
Mr. Tom became known for always saying hello to everyone.
Dedication to education and community
The company has raised funds and donated to scholarships. It donated trucks to the Pork Chop Shop, and food to various functions. Both Tommy and Mr. Tom have served more than two decades combined on the NCPC Board of Directors representing the Meat Processors.
A couple of old friends came up with the idea of a golf tournament to pay for scholarships. Tommy Neese got a phone call and agreed to get involved. They came up with the structure to help pay for scholarships, one for a student at each school. The first year sold out. When they couldn’t find a title sponsor, Tommy Neese agreed to step up. Today the company is paying for four scholarships – two for each school, $1,000 each annually.
Neese is still sponsoring the scholarships 14 years after the event started. Dozens of kids from each school have been helped with their college costs. Donald Moore and the Greensboro Grasshoppers Minor League Club, about three years ago, became the title sponsor but Neese Sausage remains the scholarship sponsor.
“Tom, Tommy and Andrea Neese supported NCPC through their service on committees such as the conference and tradeshow, fundraising, promotions and marketing and budget committees,” Johnson said. “In addition to all of that, they have generously supported our promotions through the donation of product and resources.’’
“I love it, I think it’s a great organization,” Tommy said of NCPC. “It’s also great to be friends with people in the hog industry because, obviously, it’s what we do.”
Doing things right
Today Neese Sausage remains in Greensboro, run with the help of the family’s fourth generation. And they still listen when the phone rings and someone needs their help. They are the local company not too big to care. With about 100 employees, Neese Sausage is not about just providing jobs – it’s about providing the heart and soul of a community.
Those who have never heard of Neese Sausage in the Greensboro area?
“The transplants and people who are just moving into town,” chuckles Tommy.
It’s because of good food and because of being good citizens that the product has been sold in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia for so many years; likewise, its involvement in the area remains strong.
The company doesn’t just care about making a good product with a family of employees they love, Neese can also look back now at all the good things the company has done for others.
“Our father has always kept us within our box, making sausage,” Tommy said. “We’re not in the rental business, we’re not in some extra peripheral business, we’re in the sausage-making business.”
With 2017 making it 100 years for the business – you guessed it, Tommy doesn’t want to brag – he has to have a lot of pride for what Neese Sausage means to the area and the state. The Neese family did it right, and they’re still doing everything they can to make this world better.
Success in a business, in most cases, is judged by the bottom line. Neese Sausage is wealthy but not just in the bank book, helping in various charities and NCPC events eagerly.
“We’re trying to do things right,” Tommy Neese said. “We really are.”
They are. An institution of the heart.
Tommy Neese’s favorite recipe
1 lb. Neese Sausage (hot or mild)
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese
1 can Ro*tel tomatoes and chilies
Tommy Neese didn’t hesitate when asked to name his favorite recipe using his family’s Neese sausage – the sausage dip.
There are numerous recipes that have grown to be fan favorites over the years. But Neese offers us what he enjoys most. You won’t be disappointed because even a cook who burns water can follow the simple instructions.
“A pound of sausage, a packet of cream cheese (eight ounces) and a can of Ro*Tel tomatoes is all it takes,” Neese said.
Simple but shockingly delicious to the taste buds.
“Fry the sausage, crumbling it while you fry it,” Neese offers. “When you get done cooking the sausage completely, drain what grease is in there. Put it all back in the frying pan, the cream cheese and the Ro-tel tomatoes. Let everything come to a boil, heat it back up.”
The smell itself will torture you until the recipe all melts together as you stir.
Neese recommends eating with tortilla chips.
“You will understand why it is my favorite recipe,” he promised.