STORY BY AVERY GREGURICH
A man, fading red hair caught in a ponytail at the nape of his neck, carving knife in a bare hand, works calmly on a side of beef that barely fits on the counter.
He explains his technique to another man, Stubbs, the soon-to-be owner of a portion of the meat, who watches intently atop a nearby stool.
The butcher is John Brooks Jr. and he, along with his brother Joe, represent the fourth generation of the Brooks family to own and operate the counters at B&B Grocery Meat and Deli, a grocery store that first opened in 1922.
Since then, it has become a Des Moines landmark, a designation fueled primarily by the brothers’ commitment to doing things the way their ancestors did.
“We try to keep it real,” Brooks said. “If you learn your customer, they get treated like the king, the queen,” he said, flipping through a welcome book whose inscriptions from today include customers from Australia and California.
The brick building on the corner of 6th St. and Hartford Avenue is the third location of B&B Grocery.
The first location was a half mile west, and the Brookses moved from the second location, a building directly across the street, in 1962.
“This was a barbershop,” brother Joe says, pointing to the ceiling where divisions began. “That part was DeYoung’s grocery store, and this was a garage,” pointing toward the deli counters.
Customers walking in the front door now are greeted by countertops, with no more than 30 silver stools tucked underneath.
Further in, rows of potato chips, bags of flour and canned goods line shelves next to the only cash register.
“It’s a rinky dink store that doesn’t even sell macaroni and cheese in the box,” Brooks admits.
That is, until one spots a hand painted sign hanging deftly in the corner like a hidden entrance sign. It reads: “Killer Zone,” with a sub sandwich tucked between the words.
The “Killer Zone”, (named when a local railroad worker named Joe Dewey stepped up to the counter one day at lunch and announced that he wanted a “killer sandwich”) is the meat counter, deli and kitchen section of B&B, the beating heart of the place.
Prices, scrawled over wax paper don’t seem to have changed in decades. Despite numerous regional accolades and national recognition. B&B has made several appearances on the Food and Travel Channels.
The Breaded Pork Tenderloin, voted Central Iowa’s Ultimate Sandwich by Cityview in 2010, is $4.99.
Their burgers, named last year among the Top 10 in the state by the Iowa Beef Council, start at $3.09.
Dad’s Killer Sandwich, an Italian hoagie brimming with four meats and three cheeses was named Des Moines’ Best Deli Sandwich by both the Des Moines Register and by Juice Magazine, is just $6.99.
Customers walking out the door are, in effect, journeying through the past.
Take Stubbs for instance, who has Brooks cut beef rib bones into two inch medallions for him to roast and scrape the marrow out of to put on his toast.
The carcass beef is sourced locally from Amend Packing Company, a Des Moines business less than two miles away from B&B which opened in 1869
His niece, Joe Brooks’ daughter Jennifer Brooks, checks him out at the cash register, saying, “See you next week, Stubbs.”
“Everyone is a celebrity when they come in here,” Brooks said.
“People come to B&B and buy stuff for homecoming, or a son that just got back from the service or someone they haven’t seen for a long time, and we are on the plate,” Brooks added. “That’s pretty honorable.”