Egging on the competition

Farm Forum

ABERDEEN — Growing up in Seneca, Brenda Bryant never thought she would end up with her father’s egg business.

“My dad had the business first, and I didn’t help a lot with it at that time,” Brenda Bryant said. “Once I married Bob, we had our kids, and then my dad died unexpectedly and we took over the business.”

Though it’s a scaled-back version today, Bob and Brenda Bryant still run the Seneca Egg Co., which was started in 1948 by Brenda’s uncles, Jack and Jim Charron, and run for many years by her father, Al Charron.

In 1993, Al Charron died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 56. That left Bob and Brenda with a decision to make.

“We wondered whether we should close it, but we decided that the business had a lot of loyal customers,” Brenda Bryant said. “So we decided to take it over, and we brought our five kids in. Bob had worked for my dad since grade school and continued to work for him after we were married, so it was a natural transition.”

Years ago, Brenda Bryant said, the business picked up eggs and cream from nearly 200 farms “from Rockham to Hoven” and shipped them to Casper, Wyo. In 1966, Al Charron bought the family business and soon ceased running the farm routes, instead buying all his eggs from area Hutterite colonies.

The Bryants did, however, sort through the eggs they received to grade them and inspect them for quality — a process called candling. Candling involves holding eggs up to a light to see whether they’re good or not.

“In 1996, the Hutterites went out of the chicken business,” Brenda Bryant said. “We sold our sorting machines for grading and candling to the Amish and began buying our eggs from Natural Food Corp. by Plankinton.”

Nowadays, only one Bryant kid remains at home, 17-year-old Faulkton High School junior, Dane. He helps with the business, which picks up and delivers eggs to nearly a dozen stores in South Dakota, including Ken’s SuperFair Foods and Kessler’s in Aberdeen.

“We’ve serviced Kessler’s since 2000, which was a big account for us to get, and more recently started supplying Ken’s,” Brenda Bryant said. “We advertise that we sell the only South Dakota-produced egg. Now we have a few Hutterite colonies that are putting a few in stores, but most eggs (from other suppliers) come from Minnesota, Iowa or Nebraska.”

Because there was no school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dane joined his father on the route to help load and unload the truck, something he does when he can. With older Bryant kids — Rob, Rachel, Nick and Mitch —out of the home, Dane might just be his parents’ last, best hope to keep the family business going.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Dane said with a laugh. “It’s been good though. It’s been a lot of hard work, probably more than I planned on, but it’s been good. There are some early mornings getting up at 4:30.”

Since the Bryants pick the eggs up from the plant themselves and hand-deliver to the stores they contract with, Bob Bryant said that not many eggs end up broken, though he admitted there have been times when a case or two has gotten away from him.

“I’d say we deliver about 300 cases per week with 30 dozen to a case,” Bob Bryant said. “I make three or four runs per week and come to Aberdeen twice per week. We used to have more cafes, but we’re down to delivering to just two or three of those. During the week, I average 1,200 to 1,300 (miles driven), so I’m driving about 60,000 milers every year.”

While Dane may run the business someday, Brenda Bryant said she and Bob Bryant don’t plan on getting out anytime soon.

“As we get older, we might drop some locations,” she said. “I think as long as we have Ken’s and Kessler’s and the County Fair in Mitchell, we’ll keep doing it. The Aberdeen stores have been a great attribute in keeping our small family business in business. All of our customers have been great and we thank each and every one of them.”

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