On a cloudy day near the end of May, Patrick Montgomery, Kale Swing and Tyler Hines of KC Cattle Company traverse their hilly three-hundred-acre property on the edge of Weston, searching for one of their four newborn calves.
“Why don’t you go check the tall grass over there?” says owner Patrick Montgomery, gesturing toward a fence on top of a hill.
Apparently this mama cow isn’t very good at keeping track of her calf. So the whole team is out in the field armed with boots and two four-wheelers.
“Mama, where’s your calf at?” Montgomery says to one of his cows, a cross-breed of American Angus and Japanese Wagyu. “Stop leaving her.”
KC Cattle Company started in 2016 as an artisan beef company selling mouthwatering Wagyu beef. They’ve gotten national coverage from Forbes and the New York Times and won a nationwide hot dog taste-test conducted by Food & Wine.
But more compelling than their burgers and steaks is the company’s story.
Montgomery, like his other employees, is a veteran of the armed services. He served two tours of Afghanistan as part of the Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion. Like so many veterans, he says, he didn’t know what to do once he got out.
“I think when it comes to the transition from military to civilian life, the government does a really good job of teaching us the logistics of doing that—like having a plan to go back to school or finding some type of other employment,” he says. “But what they don’t prep you for is the fact that you’re losing that fraternity, that brotherhood and sisterhood experience. That’s the part I really struggled with.”
Which is partly what led him to go back and get his degree in animal sciences from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He had planned to become a veterinarian.
“I love large animal medicine, but there’s just not a ton of money in it,” he says.
Luckily, he also studied entrepreneurship, and an idea came to him.
“One of the common themes I kept hearing while I was in ag school was that the consumer just doesn’t understand where their food comes from and the processes that go into raising a good steak,” he says. “So I kind of had this epiphany that I could start something that explains that process and shows people a palpable difference in their food.”
That was the spark that grew into his Weston ranch. When Montgomery began his business, Wagyu beef wasn’t well-known in Kansas City. The first two years were rough, Montgomery says, as he learned from mistakes and slowly won customers with his premium product.
“We were trying to sell to restaurants pretty heavily at that point, and it just wasn’t working out,” he says. “So in 2018, we kind of changed our whole business model and really started focusing on the end consumer and dialing into mail order and our local delivery service, and that’s where we found our niche.”
As Montgomery started to shift his business, people were also starting to discover just how good his product was.
KC Cattle Company sells American Wagyu beef products. “Wagyu” means black cow in Japanese and refers to a type of beef that has been bred for marbling to give it a unique taste and texture. Japanese Wagyu beef is at the tippy-top of the luxury market, and steaks often fetch more than one hundred dollars each. American Wagyu beef, like the cows raised by KC Cattle Company, is a hybrid of a Wagyu and an American Angus. The ranch started by buying calves from a breeder in western Kansas. As the company grows, it’s hoping to establish its own breeding program to keep the ranch stocked with sixty cows at a time.
“We want to provide a top-quality protein product that gives us the opportunity to serve the communities around us,” says Kale Swing, the company’s spokesman.
KC Cattle Company sells classic cuts like filet mignon, sirloin steak and ground beef, but it also sells more specialty products like bratwursts, flat iron steak, hanger steak and its most famous product—Wagyu beef hot dogs, which were blasted into stardom after they were named the best hot dog in the world by Food & Wine Magazine.
In the article, they are described as basically “like eating a steak in a bun.” Before the article dropped, Montgomery says that people thought he was crazy for putting Wagyu beef in a hot dog.
“It was actually our worst seller,” he says. “Before that article, we had done a test batch with about three hundred to four hundred pounds worth of hot dogs, and that lasted us three months. And then when the hot dog article hit, we allowed back-ordering at that point, and we sold around seventy-five hundred packages. It was cool, but it also almost killed our business.”
After that explosion in business, Montgomery had to bring in extra help just to package orders—fellow veterans Kale Swing and Tyler Hines. Swing, who is now a full-time employee, was first a customer of KC Cattle Company before he started working there. Swing served in the Navy doing small boat riverine warfare until 2013, when he got out. From 2014 until 2019 he worked in SWAT, but even before he started working with Montgomery, he knew he wanted to work with KC Cattle Company.
“Ironically, six months earlier, I brought my boys out here to see the farm, and my wife and I are driving home with kids and I said, ‘You know, if the opportunity ever presented itself to work for KC Cattle Company, I think I would just drop everything that I’m doing and go do it,’” Swing says.
That’s what he did.
Tyler Hines, the third full-time employee, had just gotten out of the Army in June of 2019 and was waiting for his FBI start date. He was looking to kill time and make some money when he heard that Montgomery needed help packaging orders and would pay twelve bucks an hour. Hines started working there and liked it so much he never left.
“I instantly fell in love with the company, the atmosphere,” Hines says. “I loved everything about it. Being from a military law enforcement style background, to kind of transition to this was just so freeing and relaxing and satisfying.”
Montgomery says hiring veterans just made sense to him.
“I loved the camaraderie and having a group of people that I was with every single day, and I missed that,” he says. “I saw the benefit of starting this company and the challenges it presented to me throughout the first two years, which was really just me, and so when we started bringing people on, I just thought it made sense to give other veterans that chance and help build something that’s a legacy for Kansas City.”
The three of them have leaned into their military experience and let it influence how they run the business. Montgomery says one of the biggest things they brought from their military experience that has made them successful is their ability to adapt.
“In the military, they say ‘the best playbook in the world goes out the window when the first shot is fired,’” Montgomery says.
The three of them do a daily work-out together every morning at six-thirty, which they say they did while they were serving. They even have a gym in their office. “I always hated it in the military,” Hines says. “But now that nobody’s telling me what to do, I do it voluntarily.”
Their common experience serving the country has created a business that is built on something stronger than just a shared interest in high-quality meat.
“It sounds really cliche,” Swing says, “but we’re a family here.”