John C. Scharbauer, the owner of Midland Meat Company and Scharbauer Ranches, is not particular about how his German surname is pronounced. Technically, Scharbauer sounds like “shar bower,” but those familiar with the name, synonymous since the 1800s with local beef, simply pronounce it “scarber.” The fifth-generation rancher is picky, however, about the cattle his family has worked 135 years and counting to ensure it is second to none.
The Scharbauers emigrated from Germany to Albany, New York. John Scharbauer (great-great-uncle to the John C. Scharbauer of Midland Meat Company) and his brother Christian migrated South during the early 1880s, Scharbauer said, after hearing that land there was plentiful.
“They got down as far as Abilene, Texas,” Scharbauer said. “One was waiting tables in Abilene and overheard some sheep farmers talking about how bad it was. He had $1,100 to his name and bought their business. They were willing to sell their whole flock of sheep. The very next year, the market flipped [so they] started moving further west and got around Stanton, around the Midland area, and realized it was more for cattle. He traded some sheep and added cattle and began running cows too. Our cattle company started in the year of 1883 when Scharbauer Brothers came about.”
In 1901, the brothers organized Scharbauer Cattle Company, and their nephew Clarence Scharbauer, Sr., joined as manager. It is believed that, from the early 1900s to the ‘20s, the company operated more than 400,000 acres in Andrews, Gaines, Martin, Midland, and Pecos Counties and ran 15,000 head of cattle, including one of the largest Hereford herds in America. Clarence Scharbauer, Sr., also helped put Midland on the map when he sold the ranch in Fort Stockton to build the Scharbauer Hotel.
“The hotel was to service not just the cattle industry but the oil industry,” Scharbauer said. “What made Midland kind of unique was it was the halfway point between El Paso and Fort Worth, so all the cattle from the west of the U.S. would load on the trains in El Paso and would be sold in Fort Worth at the stockyards. It became a place where they would water cattle and send them to Fort Worth, and Midland became a hub for cattle business because there were cattle getting unloaded and loaded here.”
Clarence Scharbauer, Sr., died, leaving his legacy to his then 17-year-old son, Clarence, Jr., who is the current Midland Meat Company owner John C. Scharbauer’s grandfather. “At that time, he inherited all the ranches, the hotel, the bank, radio station [that his family had started], so at a very young age he had to go to work,” Scharbauer said. “Our whole family has been that way from the first generation, wanting to do more and seek an American dream by even taking the leap to go this far south from Albany, New York.”
The ranching business continued with Clarence Scharbauer, Jr.’s son, Chris, who in the 1990s introduced Angus genetics to the herd. “Dad is still involved in the ranching; I’ve taken over the day-to-day operations,” Scharbauer said.
Scharbauer graduated from the Texas Christian University Ranch Management Program in Fort Worth, always knowing he would return to his family’s ranches but not sure in what capacity. “I went to work one of our ranches in Amarillo and lived there and got married and moved to Midland in 2006,” he said.
In 2009, Scharbauer introduced Wagyu to the herd. “Our ribeye has been sent off and tested against some of the best beef in the world, and we’ve [won] two times and nearly beat the full-blood Wagyus,” he said. “We were awarded the best crossbred – it’s not 100 percent Wagyu or Hereford; it’s a three-way cross. I start with a Hereford or Angus, and I’ll breed those, and then I breed a Wagyu, and so the cross is a quarter Angus, a quarter Hereford, and half Wagyu.”
In 2014, it became clear that the entrepreneurial spirit so prominent in the Scharbauer family would not end with its fifth generation, John C. Scharbauer. “I was used to eating good beef, but I would hear friends talk about how hard it was to find good steaks,” he recalled. “I’d give them our beef, and they’d say, ‘Man, it just tastes different.’ It blew their minds. With lots of prayers, we just took the leap. I bought a tobacco shop on Big Spring Street and spent three or four months renovating it.”
In 2015, Midland Meat Company opened its doors. “Midland Meat Company was something I started . . . [because] the ranching industry’s become so hard; the land is tough to hold on to, and I was trying to utilize the country and the genetics we have and get them out to the public so the public could experience and enjoy our product,” Scharbauer said.
The company provides beef to Midland favorite JumBurrito along with nine other Midland eateries, three more in Fort Worth, and the prestigious Restaurant DANIEL in New York City. “I’m also starting to sell some meat in Marble Falls and San Antonio,” Scharbauer said. “Really, what I’ve seen since we opened in 2015 [is that] the industry is catching on. People are constantly wanting to know where their food is coming from. We don’t give our cattle hormones, antibiotics, or steroids, and we handle our cattle with the utmost care; one cow gets nearly 40 acres. We wanted people to experience the meat a rancher would eat. [There’s] nothing genetically modified or altered, just clean, fresh beef.”
The Scharbauers love and take as much pride in their industry as they do in the city of Midland, which did not even become a city until after the family moved there. “It’s something we’re doing for Midland. We can feed people,” he said. “Something Midland Meat Company is very involved in is helping out the community.”
Midland Meat Company sources all the local food banks and soup kitchens. During Hurricane Harvey, the company sent 15,000 pounds of meat to that area via the West Texas Food Bank; they were told they fed nearly 35,000 people.
“This is a calling for me,” Scharbauer said. “I feel this is the business we’re supposed to be in. That’s why we’re named Midland Meat Company. I felt it was something special for Midland, and that’s how we were going to treat it.”
Scharbauer Ranches is no longer the 400,000-plus acres it once was, he said, but it is enough for what he needs and, he added, “it’s something for the future.” Scharbauer and his wife Amy have four children, who are the ranches’ and company’s sixth generation.
So, what kind of goals does a fifth-generation rancher and entrepreneur have when each generation has improved upon the prior’s work? For Scharbauer, it all goes back to consistency in quality and genetics. “I much prefer quality over quantity,” he said. “I think when you’ve got a good product, it’s always going to be in style.
“You can get a beef burrito and JumBurrito but also sit down at a MICHELIN restaurant and get the same type of meat. People who want to eat good, they have a chance to, and it’s affordable. My goal is just to keep going and building on the legacy of our family operation, trying to leave it better than how I found it, and pass it on to my kids and future generations. We’ve been here 135 years, and I plan on extending that. I wake up every day to improve it.”