Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. was proud when it was named supplier of the year by the National School Lunch Program.
The Chino meat packer put out a news release that touted its "state of the art processing plant" and posted a photo of the award on its website. "Developing our quality systems to meet the USDA requirements and having a demonstrated record of quality performance has also helped us become preferred vendors with our commercial accounts," co-owner Stan Mendell was quoted as saying in the release.
That was in 2005, three years before the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing workers at the plant using forklifts and water hoses, among other methods, to rouse cattle too weak to walk to their slaughter. In addition to issues of animal cruelty, the video raised questions about whether so-called downer cattle were entering the food chain in violation of federal regulations.
The video and subsequent investigations sparked the recall of 143 million pounds of beef, the largest recall in the history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Westland/Hallmark officials have promised their own investigation but have otherwise refused to comment.
According to public records, the privately held company was founded in 1985 in what is known as the Chino milkshed.
Until operations were suspended earlier this month, the company operated as a combination of two businesses. Hallmark butchered the animals and Westland marketed the meat.
They had about 200 employees and sold beef to institutional vendors such as the USDA's school lunch program and fast-food restaurants, including Southern California icons In-N-Out Burger and Jack in the Box. Both companies said they stopped using the beef early this month after the first reports of problems at the plant.
Last year, the federal government purchased nearly $39 million of ground beef from Westland/Hallmark at an average price of $1.42 a pound. That represented about 40% of the company's roughly $100 million in annual sales, according to industry sources.
Four years after Al Stiles started the company, Donald Hallmark Sr. gained control of it; he and his son Donald Hallmark Jr. are listed as partners in the venture. Steve Mendell, a Newport Beach resident and Stan Mendell's brother, is listed as president.
Though the recall has prompted calls for action from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., for increased regulation of the meat-packing industry, it has brought business to a standstill in the plant's neighborhood.
On Monday, the holding pens for cattle were empty, stacks of hay covered in blue tarp were unused and dozens of delivery trucks sat parked with nowhere to go.
Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.