Decades ago, homemakers relied on a man in a tidy apron and a necktie to provide the perfect cut of meat for Sunday dinner and a stop at the local butcher shop was part of the regular shopping routine. Over time, grocery stores started offering a similarly packaged cuts and it was the friendly neighborhood meat man who was being cut out.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, year after year, the number of grocery store butchers has grown steadily while the number of specialty store butchers has struggled to add numbers. Last year, there were more than 94,000 butchers working in grocery store chains.
Comparatively, specialty store butchers only accounted for 13,500 jobs that year, but that’s up significantly from 2008, when the economy tanked. Since the economic crisis, specialty store butchers have grown in number at a higher rate than their chain store counterparts. And that’s not including self-employed butchers.
As the economy started to nosedive, people started looking for simple ways to save. Home vegetable gardens and farmers markets became as popular as skinny jeans, and more people entertained friends at home indead of hosting lavish dinners at restaurants.
Folks started paying attention to the amount of money they were shelling out for services and slowly, some small, customer-service oriented stores (like florists, bakeries and butchers) made a comeback of their own. Some consumers felt they could get a sweeter deal or better quality from a craftsman than from a big chain store. Others liked the idea of supporting a small local business.
Whatever the root cause, boutique butcher shops saw an increase in demand. There are 2500 more specialty store butchers now than there were 5 years ago. By percentage, that’s a huge difference.
The New York Butcher Shoppe in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta is benefiting from that very trend. Located in an upscale neighborhood strip mall across the street from Piedmont Park, the store has been successful in the few short months it’s been open. It’s a chain store operated by a franchise in the Southeast.
“I hate the word chain,” co-owner Greg Wheat said while waiting on his brother-in-law Rick Wolfe. Along with Wheat's brother Rob, the three of them opened this location at the beginning of the year. Business is good.
“It’s a chain, but it’s great quality,” Wheat added.
The original New York Butcher Shoppe is in Charleston, South Carolina, owned and operated by Bill D’Elia, a Brooklyn native. D’Elia semi-retired to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Charleston 17 years ago and opened the New York Butcher Shoppe with his son four years later. The antiquated spelling was the younger Billy’s idea.
D’Elia got his start in the meat industry at 9 years old, when he was a bicycle delivery boy. In 1976 he opened his first shop. “I love taking care of customers” he said in his distinctly New York accent, "[I like] explaining to them how to use the cuts of meat, how to cook it.”
D’Elia sold the franchising rights in 2007, and now there are 12 units in five states across the Southeast. Franchise manager Jim Tindal finds that the ideal candidate for a new store has a culinary background with restaurant experience, is firmly entrenched in their community, and has a base to grow from. "We’re looking for smart business people," he added.
The franchisees are given up to four weeks of training in North Carolina, where they learn how to cut meat and run the shop. They get additional support and on-the-job training in the first few weeks after opening.
As self-described "big time neighborhood folks,” Wolfe and the Wheat brothers thought a New York Butcher Shoppe would be a great fit for the area. They carry USDA prime and choice cuts and make all of their prepared foods themselves.
"I really love what I do, I love preparing food," Rick said. "It’s very customer oriented, it’s a fun environment and we have a lot of repeat customers," some of whom he now considers friends.
Geoff Irwin of Shields Meat Market across town can relate. “I have more friends than customers. I’ve watched children grow up, their children are now buying meat from me."
His shop looks pretty similar to the New York Shoppe; both are set up similarly, carry items to make a full meal as well as a decent wine selection, and sell fresh cuts of meat. The difference is that Irwin has been cutting meat for more than 30 years and his store has been in operation for 65 years.
Shields is a smaller store, located almost inside a CVS drugstore in a smaller neighborhood. It moved to its current location 35 years ago after a grocery store there went out of business. Part of the deal to counter the loss of fresh produce was that Shields would carry as much as they could to make up the difference.
Like Bill D’Elia, Irwin got his start in New York as a stock boy in a grocery store. He was offered a position to learn how to cut meat. In those days you were a journeyman for five to seven years and wouldn’t cut a T-bone until after that. He was trained under the watchful eye of Carl Fassett who’d gotten a similar start in the business and worked his way up.
Irwin bought Shields Market in Atlanta at 23 and put his talents to work. “I was a good cutter, I have a knack for it. Knew it was hard work, but knew I wanted my own store,” he said, standing over a case of rib eye steak. “I cut for quality, not profit. Chains are working on volume, pushing it out as much as they can. I just buy the best I can buy and put a fair price on it. High volume isn’t my gain, it’s quality and taking care of people. Taste tells.”
To him, the difference between Shields and a boutique shop is in the cutting. “That’s where the art has changed. Most cutters today wouldn’t know what to do with a hanging cut of beef.”
He knows that there’s enough room in the market for both types of shops, but hopes that his loyal customers remember his experience when picking a place to get their steaks. “Anything you buy from me is going to be different from anywhere else. I love keeping this whole butcher shop open. Very proud I was able to do that.”
And despite the tough economy, Irwin has a positive outlook. “You’ll always have a job, you just might not be a millionaire.”
He tends to tear up when he talks about his mentor Carl, “He’d be proud. I don’t have to make the money, it’s very gratifying to hear people brag on you. That’s what keeps it going. I wanted to hold my own.”
Where in Queens, New York City is a very good butcher shop? I would rather buy meat from them, then big stores n markets...Natural raised meats too
We raise two beef every year for the freezer. One for us and one for my brother in law. The animals are spoiled rotten, eat only the best food s and have a very easy and happy life. I hate when people accuse us of being cruel to animals just to feed our selves. Do you have any idea how the beef you get in the store is raised? Tiny little feed lots and force feeding hormone laced foods. There only purpose is to be fattened and killed.
OK, 2 points:
– My late brther-in-law, Ernie, was once a meat cutter, and had a job in a large grocery store. In that area of the city, there were a lot of pensioners on fixed income. When they came to him to ask for, eg a blade steak that was on sale, he would cut them top sirloin and then label it as blade steak. They loved him, and would always ask for Ernie when they went to the meak counter. Ernie eventually got found out and was fired, much to the dismay of the pensioners. But Ernie didn't mind – he said that he had helped parents, grand[arents, and seniors. RIP Ernie.
– When I was living in Italy, we had to find our own grocers, etc. Italians don't eat a lot of beef, but I found a nearby small butcher, and he was great. I spoke very little Italian and he spoke no English whatsoever. So I told him
"quatro bistecca molto bene circa tres mille grams" (which roughly translates to "4 steaks very good and about 300 grams each"). He would acknowledge that and then cut the steaks from a very nice loking piece of beef. Wow – the steaks were always very good and, more remarkedly, there were always within a few grams of what I had ordered.
There's a wonderful butcher shop near me that makes me want to eat more red meat just so I can buy it from them. The dead animal heads staring down at you from the walls are kind of creepy, but the dead animals in the meat cases are incredible. And their prices are competitive with the grocery stores. If only their hours were longer (at least one day a week) I wouldn't buy meat anywhere else.
meat is murder, and delicious.
I live in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. There is only one butcher near the resort towns. His name is Tony. Wouldn't know what to do without hm. Supermarkets are ok but nothing special. Seems they can't be bothered. My wife asked one for something one day many years ago and was told that isn't made anymore. She said, Why? Did the cows stop growing that body part? Thank you Tony?
And here I thought this was a dying business, Bravo to all the Butchers out there helping us have quality foods. I swear these food chains have no sense of what quality really is...
I love Mexican Scrambled eggs.
The only meat i eat is dog
Its about time we need a lots more here in Seattle
Seattle has quite a few local butcher shops ... I used to live there.
I was a butcher for 8 years before I went white collar, paid for my college education.
If you live in the Denver area, I can vouch for this one:
In Wheat Ridge ... Wheat Ridge Poultry and Meat.
I tend to judge a butcher shop by the quality of their ground beef. Hold the pink slime please ... ;)
Clearly, when I stated the butchers are too big to fail, I was correct, hence my massive stimulus bailout for the butcher industry. Today, they are on the comeback.
Now I propose the same for the bakers and the candlestick makers.
I told y'all it wasn't my fault.
Oh look, a troll on the internet. How quaint. Go back under your bridge, troll.
The only relevance of your comment is your butchery of history. I look forward to four more years of your silly whining.
I have all my meat delivered from Kosher butcher shop in Baltimore.
I am in Baltimore too can you send me their information?
Great article. My family owns a butcher shop in central/northern nj. Have been in business for 77 years. When I first saw the picture with your article I had to do a double take I thought it was my family. Today if you come in the shop the butchers where a white apron with a shirt and tie and work on butcher blocks and sawdust on the floor.
April 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm"
-Marie, where is the shop?
My gripe with my local grocery store is they refuse to grind a cut of meat for me and instead point me to the prepackaged ground up stuff. No, I do not want that 99% lean stuff that smells kind of funny, I want some fat in it and ground fresh. I WILL EVEN PAY YOU A LITTLE MORE FOR IT.
I've had similar problems at chain store butcher departments. It might help to talk to the manager – there's not much point in having a butcher counter if all they do is point at the pre-wrapped stuff on the shelves; it sounds like an employee who needs a little "incentivizing".
Better yet, if you can, find a smaller grocery with a butcher that will do what you ask, or a real butcher shop, rare as those have become.
35 years ago we bought our lamb and some of our poultry from a family member in upstate New York who raised it, had it slaughtered and cut to specs and frozen for us (we lived 125 miles away so we had to stock our freezer rather than having it fresh). Then we moved another 600 miles farther south (to North Carolina), where we lived in a small town that boasted three ultra-local grocery / general stores, two of which cut fresh meat to order from whole critters of various varieties. Now we've lived in New Jersey for 16+ years and rely on grocery store cuts from a regional chain based in upstate New York, with the occasional purchase from their specialty butcher counter. We'd love to have a good, affordable local butcher, but I can't afford to pay a butcher shop $26 / lb. for a USDA Choice porterhouse when I can get the same cut, same grade, same trim for $10 / lb. every day and $7 / lb. when it comes on sale.
Check out http://www.yelp.com for 'butcher shop' in your zip code ... I'll bet there is one nearby, that you might not know about ... ask around ... life is too short to eat sh!tty meat. The local butcher shop in my neighborhood consistently sells their stuff for well under 'big store' prices.
The thing I miss most about Portland, Or...my butchers! I went to 2 specialty shops (1 for beef cuts, the other sausage and pork) and knew the butchers on sight at 2 other local grocers. Best butchers ever, they all knew the cuts and how to cook them. We would trade cooking tips and recipes, loved them (not all guys either). Here in TX I know of one good shop but it is far away, although we do have a few fish mongrels that are amazing. Regular grocers ask for a tri tip and you get a blank stare and a no 8 of 10 times. You'd think in TX they'd know...
http://www.yelp.com ... cut and paste above, provides reviews for all of Austin's butcher shops. I too would think Texas has some good butcher shops, worth the extra trip if you enjoy a decent cut of meat. Giddyup! ;)
I talked to my HEB butcher in ATX, he said Texans prefer brisket and Californians like tri-tips so briskets are sold cheap in TX and a decent one can't be found in CA and vice versa. He regularly stocks tri-tips now at HEB/Escarpment. We like The Meat House as smaller butcher if you are in ATX.
Porter Road Butcher, East Nashville, TN. If they'd let me, I'd sleep there.
I'm with ya JB. Porter House rocks! I hope that the I-24 bridge work over the spring and summer doesn't slow their business.
Mark this day on my calendar! CNN does a story about my trade. Yes I have worked in a slaughterhouse, and have experience with beef, hogs, lamb, goat, chickens, moose, deer, from on the hoof to retail cuts, sausages, hams, you name it. I would just like to say I have more respect for animals than many people who have never had to kill their own food.
Support your local butcher shop...better quality meats, and far less likelihood of contamination via e.coli, and other nasty things.
Remember Jack in the Box...Circa 1993?
Some are able to raise their own meat...good on you. Learn to make your own sausages...even better.
I have recently become enthralled with pork butchery. I've learned to make my own sausage, how to butcher a pig, and will be learning slaughter and curing in a couple of weeks. I didn't think I'd have the stomach for it, but oh, quite the contrary! To be that intimately connected to the food you eat... it's amazing! I'm not sure if this will lead into a new profession for me, but I'm still learning everything I can!
this guy has the best cuts around. His name is Roberto Celedon and he will make sure your fresh meat comes from the best animal. He is in Los Angeles but make sure to watch a video of his fine art of animal slaughter. They say the more the animal suffers the betters its tastes...yuummm.
Since you like to eat meat so much, I dare you to watch the video of his gracious work at http://www.mercyforanimals.org/CASlaughter/
My father was a butcher.. spent 35 years in a grocery store chain cutting meat. Did his best to provide for the family..helped out with my college, and I'm proud of him. Remember summers working in his meat freezer (I think that's the way he proved to me that you need a college education.. so you wouldn't freeze your tail off doing hard work). Nice to see the profession isn't going away.
As to meat causing cancer.. I remember a somewhat humorful article that came out about cancer causing stuff. Some labratory did detailed research and discovered that all Food and Drink can cause cancer.. and they're beginning to have their doubts about Oxygen.
I'm from Brooklyn and the thing I miss most when I moved here was my butcher, Pete and Rose's Fish Market. But let me tell you about Pete. I can let him know on the 1st of Novemeber that I want a goose for Christmas and a week before the holiday there it is, goose , duck, venison it didn't matter, if you wanted it Pete would have it for you when you wanted. He would remember how I want my chops cut, how thick I want my steaks. I'd kill for a decent butcher. I keep trying to get Pete to set up business here in Atlanta, but I can't get him to leave Flatbush.
I highly recommend Shields or Pine Street (mainly sausages and salamis) or Oakhurst market.
Local Homeland in small town Yukon has 3 terrific butchers. If they get rid of butchers, they will just be another prepackaged dump.
Sams by far and away has the BEST meat in Loveland,CO.
... I'll check that out ... I commute from Denver to Ft. Collins every day, on my 'route'.
Wheat Ridge Poutry and Meats, down off of Sheridan/29th ... you should check them out when you are in the neighborhood.
I think children need to see the animals get slaughtered. Instead of pretty pictures of cows in the field we need to see them hanging upside bleeding out. We need to see them getting the electric shock prod in the butt. We need to see them being shoved around by tractors when they are downed. Show us the truth, show the children the truth. I guess the meat lobby will object to the truth though.
You sound like someone who would be the life of the party.
and let's show the poor stalks of corn having their little ears off...and the heads of lettuce chopped off at the base leaving their little roots stuck in the soil......and the bananas...all green till the get gassed in the warehouse then then turn all yellow as the sit and spoil.
excellent point Mike
At what age do you think children should be made to watch this? Would they watch live or would a video suffice? Do you have children? What's that knock at your door? Have you been brought up on those child abuse charges yet?
So who's the hit man? We want to see animal actually get killed. You know part of the circle of life. Show us the hit man.
You cannot beat a local butcher shop manned by REAL meat cutters. Most "butchers" today would have no idea how to take apart a side of beef.
1. Meat cutting is a service, the good butcher shops know that and will make sure to provide quality meat and great service.
2. Ieft left on their own the new guys would provide a few extra pieces, generally a finger or knuckle.
Hopefully there is one old pro showing the new guys how to do both properly.
This trend too shall die, right after the next Butchers Strike.
Remember them from yesteryearr?
A Butcher Strike would cause all of the women to have The Vapors; their poor husbands wouldn't have a healthy meal when they got home from work.
Smoke another one and please pass it along.
Meat causes CANCER. It's a proven fact. Just google it....
So does everything else on this planet
Googling causes cancer – Just Google it.
lol! so true.
I'd rather die younger having had a full and delicious life than live a long and boring life without exquisite food.
Then hurry up and get to it...
Man has been an "Omnivore" for much longer than PETA, Veganism, or "lacto" or "ovo" has been in our conciousness. Our lifespans are such that very little, if any, difference is made by avoiding meat. There is a "circle of life" that happens every day around us and to ignore that is to ignore reality. If you're Hindu, just think of it as the next step on the "ladder"!
Wow – it sounds like you're trying hard to know what you're talking about.
A for effort.
I remember some Laboratory in England did detailed research.. they publicised that all food and drink can cause cancer.. and they're beginning to have their doubts about Oxygen.
Nonsense. Nothing of the kind has proven. Google it and all you'll get is some badly designed observational studies. Even if they weren't badly designed, observational studies don't prove squat. They show correlation not causation. And they were never designed to do anything but develop hypotheses anyway. Watch 'Science for Smart People' on you tube.
Of course you get better quality and service when you go into a specialty store. Same thing when you buy a suit at Macys vs Brooks Brothers. This is the way America used to be. Towns and Cities filled with Bakeries, Butcher Shops, Fruit and vegetable shops, Shoe Makers and Repair shops, hardware stores, etc Then the Wal-Marts of the world opened up and people thought they were getting great deals. But not only did we put our neighbors out of jobs, we also started getting crappier products and horrible service. Look at all the chemicals they inject and in our foods. Where do you think all this autism comes from.
I'm in total agreement with you! BUT it was the American consumer who chose to shop at the "new" more convenient, cheaper stores that caused it all. It's a catch 22. BUT, we as consumers have the means, maybe not to stop, but to put a dent in the Walmarts of the world if we STOP shopping there and go back to the "little guy". It's the only way we can save Small Business and in the long run create better jobs for our children.
That's all well and good. However, there aren't many "little guys" left to go to.
Pink slime has a terrible name, but do you know what it really is and/or how it affects the body? I am not for or against pink slime, I just hate people who take a buzzword and run with it with asinine platitudes. "Where do you think autism comes from?"
Seriously? Is Pink Slime in your vaccines as well? Did Wakefield start grinding meat at Safewat and Ralphs as well?
Shop local to support them because you want to, not based on raivng lunatics behind a computer screen who is afraid of scary things. Oh my gosh, its slime. RUN!!!!!!
Wow....in trying to sound intelligent, I made a lot of grammatical errors. I type like Ron Artest/World Peace speaks. :D
Go to your local Butcher! There is a GREAT one in Germantown, WI. The House of Home Made Sausage is owned and operated by the 4th generation of Butchers and Sausage makers. Lets get good cuts of meat back on the family table! The more people shop at a local business, the lower the prices will stay as they need volume to get good prices on the freshest meats to cut and sell. Support your local business man and stop shopping at the grocery store for meat that is mediocre. Get the BEST from your local Butcher and it will pay off in more ways than one! And, NO, I do not own this shop, I am a loyal customer who has never been dissappointed!
I can't believe you posted this. I am a regular customer of the House also. Turns out I am a third generation customer. My Grandmother and Mother used to go to their shop when they are on Villard Avenue. I hope they are around a long time. Their hot sticks are the best!
I've found that it makes no difference. When I started getting in to smoking meats as a serious hobby I went off to my local "butcher". The product I got was the same thing that comes out of the freezer at Sams Club, just $3.99 more a pound. Same packaging and everything!
If the product was pre-packaged, you weren't going to a butcher. You were going to a meat shop. Big difference. We once had a great butcher shop nearby but they have been out of business for years because the average person (a) won't take time for the extra stop and (b) doesn't know the difference between great meat and the so-so junk sold at grocery stores and "meat shops'
... you might be 'saving' here on earth by going to Sams Club, but the quality is horrible ... and you pay for your sins here on earth in the hereafter, might as well buy quality and a good local butcher shop and live well without worry ...
Sams? This former butcher would never in a million years buy anything there that I am going to ingest. Tires, go for it ... food, forgettaboutit.
Sams meat is terrible. (as is Walmart) Costco on the other hand has beautiful product and will custom cut it anyway you want it
I don't eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I get it from the local butcher shop...and not just due to the latest publicity about the ingredients in groud beef at some stores. I've done it for years. I pay a little more but the quality is higher. I've always liked to watch my hamburger ground up...so I know what's in it.
Need to watch the new show "MEAT MEN" it's really pretty good. And they always show the best cuts of meat around because they sell the best meat in New York area.
Best vacation I ever had was in 1970.
Went to Mammoth Mountain for a ski vacation, the Chess Club was at my room/dorms.
One of the club members' father was a Union Butcher and brought enough steaks, the really good cuts, to feed half the mountain.
A back-step barbeque, a few of the Da Steaks and Cold Beers were like a flame to the co-eds (even the Chess Club members scored points that week).
Meat Men is a GREAT show! I truly enjoy it!
You find the best kind of meats, smoked turkeys, special recipe items, sausage, and jerkys at meat shops. Can't beat 'em. Well worth it. A loyal customer can usually score some great stuff from their butcher as well as being the first to try something they're working on. Here's a good one from my home state in Alaska. You can order stuff online. I highly recommend their jalapeno cheese spread. None like it in the world.
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