RIVERBANK -- Thomas Mathias seasoned his life with adventure before starting a meat company in Stanislaus County.
He grew up in the English town of Glastonbury, said to be the burial place of King Arthur. He visited a friend in California, which led to a job running cattle in the southern Sierra Nevada.
"After a while, I got to be fairly good with a horse and worked side by side with the cowboys," he said.
Mathias later was a chicken broker, finding buyers for products from Foster Farms and other producers. He ended up in sales for McFarland Foods in Riverbank.
Now he owns a company, Compass Foods, that occupies the former McFarland plant on Roselle Avenue. It turns chicken and other meats into sausage, broth base and other products for restaurants and grocers around the country.
Mathias, 40, founded the business last year in much smaller quarters in Waterford. It employs 21 people and could reach 40 early next year.
The company stresses health, which explains its idea to mix freeze-dried fruits and vegetables into hot dogs.
"The whole idea behind Compass Foods is to make everyday food healthier," Mathias said during a tour of the plant last week. "I made a hot dog with 20 percent of your daily intake of fruits and vegetables."
He also plans to make fortified chicken nuggets, first with an outside company, later in his plant.
Compass handles about 7,000 pounds of chicken per day and smaller amounts of turkey, duck, beef, pork and lamb.
The meat comes from producers such as Zacky Farms in Fresno and Hearst Ranch on the Central Coast. Workers last week marinated 1,000 birds from Diestel Family Turkey Ranch, near Sonora, for a retailer in the Pacific Northwest.
Mathias hopes to get his products into Modesto-area stores and to develop a brand called New Directions Family Foods. It's a twist on the Compass name, which refers to "finding your way to healthier food," he said.
Compass is a small part of the meat industry in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, dominated by the Foster Farms poultry operations in Livingston and Turlock.
But the jobs are welcome in Riverbank, where the October jobless rate of 20.7 percent far exceeded the countywide rate of 13.9 percent.
"I congratulate Thomas Mathias for investing in our city and helping to create many more jobs that will employ our local residents and strengthen our local economy," Mayor Virginia Madueño said in an e-mail.
Compass has one truck, but prefers to leave most of the hauling to its distributors.
"I don't want to be a delivery service," Mathias said. "I want to be a manufacturer and innovator of food."
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