This Kansas City beef company is more than its wagyu hot dogs, with a mission focused on veterans
When it launched in 2016, KC Cattle Company made it a priority to hire veterans like founder Patrick Montgomery. With a retail store in Parkville and a ranch in Weston, they were put on the map with an all-beef wagyu hot dog named the best in the nation by Food & Wine.
Patrick Montgomery struggled to find his way after his service in the U.S. Army, he said. Now on a new mission — his venture KC Cattle Company — Montgomery is helping other veterans at a similar crossroads.
“The military does some things really well and they do some things really poorly,” he explained. “One of the things they do a really poor job of is preparing the younger enlisted soldiers for that transition back to civilian life. I had a solid plan — I’m a smart guy and I’d done my research — but the part I didn’t anticipate was the loss of camaraderie and friendship; and the purpose that I had when putting on a uniform and chasing down bad guys.”
So when Montgomery launched his wagyu beef company in 2016 — which has taken off, thanks to its now-famous beef hot dogs, and has been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, and on The Today Show, he noted — he decided to employ only fellow veterans.
“It’s probably the part I enjoy the most about the company,” he said. “It’s a huge benefit for me because we all speak the same language. We come from similar backgrounds and it just meshes really well.”
“We work diligently to try to change that ‘broken-veteran’ narrative,” Montgomery continued. “You can use those terrible things that happened to you during your time in service to propel you to something pretty amazing on the civilian side.”
Wherever his employees are in life, he wants to use his connections to help them transition and succeed, he noted.
“There’s a lot of reasons people come to work here,” he added. “It might not be their long-term career goal. It might be a stepping stone. They might be back in college or something of that nature. But we try to be an asset for them.”
‘From when the calf hits the ground to when it hits your plate’
Montgomery — who currently employs 12 veterans between the Weston-based KC Cattle Company ranch and its retail store in downtown Parkville, Missouri — has enlisted their help in fulfilling his other mission: bridging the gap between agriculture and the consumer, he shared.
“There’s 1% of the population in the U.S. that produces the food for — not only the other 99% in this country — but also about 30 percent of the world, which is kind of staggering when you think about it,” he explained. “And the people who consume this food are so disconnected from the people who produce the food and I saw this opportunity there to make a difference and maybe redo some of the ways that we specifically do protein.”
His vehicle for connecting to the consumer is wagyu — a Japanese cattle breed known for the marbling in its beef products. Montgomery got the idea after doing an internship with an Army Ranger buddy who was raising and selling wagyu in Austin, Texas, he said.
“Nobody really knew yet what wagyu beef was in the United States , except on the coasts a little bit — New York and California,” he added. “I saw the opportunity here in Kansas City to bring that to this market.”
Although they started off selling KC Cattle Company beef to restaurants and at farmers markets, Montgomery noted, he and his team quickly learned that direct-to-consumer sales were their breadwinner. They now sell online, in their Parkville retail store, and at about 15 grocery stores around the Kansas City metro. The brand also offers pasture-raised chicken and pork.
“There’s a lot of companies out there that sell beef and there’s a lot of companies out there to do cattle,” he explained. “There’s not a lot of companies that know the integration from, literally, when the calf hits the ground to when it hits your plate. That’s our competitive advantage. We’re pretty well versed in that whole spectrum.”
“So we’re using that to our advantage to kind of vertically integrate backward from the beef program and start integrating some really quality genetics that people haven’t seen,” he continued. “It’s a three- to four-year timeline to build and do that but I think it’s gonna be pretty cool.”
Before starting his own business, joining the military was Montgomery’s only plan following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he shared.
“I was in sixth grade when it happened,” he recalled. “I remember watching the Twin Towers fall and coming home and just making a promise to myself that if that fighting was still going on when I was of fighting age, that I was going to go do my part.”
So when Montgomery graduated from Park Hill South High School, he went to Northwest Missouri State University on a ROTC scholarship. After a year, he said, he decided he didn’t want to be an officer and just wanted to enlist in the Army. He joined the 75th Ranger Regiment and, after a year of training, received his first assignment to Afghanistan in spring 2011.
During this first deployment, Montgomery recalled, he lost his brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Katzenberger, a fellow Ranger, who was on his eighth deployment.
“I had three sisters growing up, so Jeremy would have been the closest thing I had to an actual brother,” he noted. “My sister got married when I was a freshman in high school, and before that, I thought I wanted to be a Navy Seal and he convinced me to go the Army Ranger route, which I’m thankful for.”
“He was in the First Battalion, a different company, but the same battalion as myself,” he continued. “He was killed in a firefight and I was tasked with the honor of bringing Jeremy back to my sister in the States here. And we lost quite a few more buddies. It was a busy time for Afghanistan.”
After another deployment to Afghanistan and four years of service, he opted to leave the Army as an E-5 Sergeant, he said.
“I saw the effects it was having on myself, losing all those friends, especially in a war that people didn’t really care about,” he explained.
But while Montgomery had always known he wanted to join the military, figuring out what was next didn’t come as easily, he shared.
‘Slinging steaks out of the back of a pickup truck’
Ultimately, Montgomery chose to attend the University of Missouri for large animal veterinary medicine (with a minor in entrepreneurship). About four months before graduation, however, he realized the plan wasn’t for him; he was, once again, at a crossroads.
Montgomery interviewed with a security consulting company, but quickly realized the corporate side of business wasn’t a fit either.
“I called my wife on the way home and just told her, ‘I think I made a mistake leaving the military. I enjoyed that job; I had gone through a rough time, but I’m strongly considering going back in,’” he continued. “I had a two-hour drive from Kansas City back to Columbia. By the time I got home, I had this revelation that I was going to start a business.”
Despite his wife’s reservations that he knew nothing about running a business and got a C in economics, he noted, it took him about two weeks to start coming up with the business plan for KC Cattle Company.
“I filed papers for the corporation in 2016 and then 2017 would have been our first half year of sales,” continued Mongtomery, who later earned his MBA, “literally slinging steaks out of the back of a pickup truck.”
His role as an Army Ranger helped to prepare him for life as an entrepreneur, he said.
“Being from the Special Operations community, things like Ranger school are not a leadership opportunity you can go to as a civilian, but it is the best leadership school in the country,” he explained. “A lot of the barriers you think you have as a human being are — nobody wrote those in stone — most of them are created in your own mind. And you figure out that with a little hard work and the right advisor, you can break through a lot of those.”
“Then it’s also perspective,” he added. “On my worst business day, the worst thing that can happen are these doors shut and the bank reclaims everything I own. But I still have my family. I have my health. I have all my opportunities still in front of me. It does a really good job of keeping things in perspective, even when you’re having a bad day.”
Elevated ‘tube steak’
Although Montgomery considers KC Cattle to be a steak company, he knows it was the all beef wagyu hot dogs that put the business on the map. In spring 2019, the company made a test batch, he said, which initially didn’t go over well.
His team sent a pack to Food & Wine magazine for its specialty hot dog taste test, but they didn’t think anything came of it until August when his phone started blowing up with hot dog orders.
The Food & Wine editors picked KC Cattle Company’s hot dog as the best saying, “This hot dog blew us away. The umami! The spice! The beefiness! It was basically like eating a steak in a bun, or an elevated ‘tube steak,’ if you will.”
“It was right before the pandemic and people were sick of talking about politics and arguing about politics,” Montgomery explained. “So I think for this little hot dog article, it was just perfect timing right. It was the No. 1 article on Apple News and Yahoo and MSN for about 24 hours. And we had 12,000 orders roll in and roughly a million people visit the website.”
The hot dogs have remained especially popular, he noted, during this higher inflationary environment when steaks can be a bit pricey.
“Customers can still try our hot dogs and brats and our ground beef,” he added. “So it’s been huge for us. We thought we were a steak company. But I did a news interview a couple weeks ago and this lady kept referring to us as a hot dog company. And I was like, ‘I guess. I mean, we do sell a lot of hot dogs.’”