On Managing a Meat Shop

nick_blog_star Here’s an interesting etymology: the word “manage” comes from the Italian “manèggiare,” or, “to put a horse through its paces” on the “manège,” a training area particularly for racing horses. What’s it been like managing a meat shop? I feel like I’ve had to learn the rules of horse racing, the regulations of horse training, the basics of horse physiology, and the philosophy of what it means to race horses, all while on horseback (though I’ve had lots of help). It’s been invigorating and fun, though I’d be lying if I told you my head wasn’t spinning. I think I like the way the horse training etymology works as a metaphor. Managing a meat shop, training a racing horse—mostly, what you are being asked to do is to take care of something that is important.

The role that I play as the general, day-to-day manager of the St. Paul Meat Shop is one of ensuring the soundness of its operations, and the delivery of the highest-possible quality of customer service. This latter item is something that I, personally, have cared about for a long time (of course, we are nothing—we are less than nothing—without being really, really on top of our day-to-day basic stuff!). I remember as a child growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, walking into Zingerman’s Delicatessen, being greeted by workers there who treated my family as if they already knew us, and then being given transcendentally delicious food to eat—the kind of food that, after the first bite, you just know is better than almost everything else you’ve ever eaten. The completeness of that experience is rare and special. I think we offer it at our cheese shops already: you can walk in, have somebody who is really nice in a basic human way offer you an artisanally-crafted, mind-blowingly tasty piece of cheese, and then be transported somewhere else by way of your taste buds.

The vision we have for the Meat Shop is very similar. We believe that you can raise animals for meat in an artisanal way—this goes beyond buzzwords like organic, local, sustainable, grass-fed, although these are all awesome principles and necessarily a part of what we do. The big idea is that there are some producers nearby who are really passionate about delicious meat, and have the know-how to make it happen. In theory, it’s not so different from affinage, or the art of aging or finishing a cheese. “Finishing” an animal on grass is an art, and “grass-fed,” on its own, simply isn't a guarantor of taste. We’ve found four farming partners who are doing great stuff, and we’re proud to be a market for them.

Returning to our horse racing metaphor, I’m only a trainer. The Meat Shop is the product of the passion of many people, starting with the farmers who raise their animals the way they believe is right, even in the face of a market that doesn’t always reward that conviction; continuing to our management and butchering team, whose collective belief in what food should taste like and what a retail experience should feel like is what animates our existence; and our amazing owner, who cares about good food, good wine, and about creating special opportunities for people to pursue these passions.

My part in this is to ensure we’re a reliable and friendly place to get awesome meat, but much of our shop’s functionality and personality is owed to our high-functioning and personable group of jockeys behind the counter, whom I would gladly buy meat from, but would also, were I in the neighborhood, perhaps just pop in to say hi to and maybe even consult for general advice. Managing a meat shop has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work so far—now that we’re off to the races I hope you’ll come by and say “what’s up” to us soon!

--Nick Mangigian, Manager of the St. Paul Meat Shop

Meet Our Butcher // Scott Filut

scott_blog_star Meet the St. Paul Meat Shop's lead butcher, Scott Filut! He's the passionate, grinning guy behind the good things you see in our meat case. Scott spends most of his time butchering at our kitchen in Minneapolis, but you can catch him now and then behind the counter on weekends.

Where are you from? Eden Prairie, MN

How did you become a butcher? I became a butcher when we opened a butcher shop! Haha.

In actuality, butchering is a skill used in every kitchen I have ever worked in. Most places bring in smaller pieces of meat that are trimmed and portioned for a dish, but a few places would receive whole animals that I was able to learn from. While most of my education has happened on-the-job, I've also done plenty of studying with different books and online butchering groups, especially over the last 6 months as we prepared to open the St. Paul Meat Shop.

What intrigues you most about butchering? I like butchering because it’s one of the first steps between the farm and the table. I get to work directly with small farmers who care as much about the final product as I do, if not more, and I'm able to pass along a great product to customers. Also, the art of butchering is a dying trade. I like being a part of keeping it alive.

What is the most challenging part of your job? The hardest part of my job is really understanding the structure of all the animals I work with. Every cut counts. If it's done in the wrong spot, we can't give customers what they want.

The best part? The best part of my job is passing knowledge along to others. Whether it's our staff or customers, I really enjoy helping others understand the technical side of my job, and how I do it differently than some other butchers. The taste testing isn’t bad either.

What's something we might not know about butchering? While butchering any animal, it's always my goal to not cut each piece of meat, but rather cut between the pieces and then go back to trim the meat up later. The structure of each animal is laid out for me, and it's my job to not mess up that structure.

Any book recommendations for meat lovers? The most comprehensive book I have found about butchering is The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat by Cole Ward. There is a PowerPoint that comes with the book which is very detailed. The way Ward breaks down meat isn't the way I do it, but it gives the reader a great idea of what to look for when approaching animals. There are many other great books by whole-animal butcher shops around the country, like The Meat Hook Meat Book by Tom Mylan or Whole Beast Butchery by Ryan Farr.

What's your favorite cut of meat to cook? My favorite cut of meat is a hanger steak, cooked to medium rare in a cast iron pan, seasoned only with salt and pepper. There is only one hanger steak per cow, but it’s delicious!

Favorite thing about the Twin Cities? My favorite spot in the Twin Cities is either Target Field or any golf course.

What's your spirit animal? My spirit animal is Natalonies (my dog)!

Any big summer plans? My summer plans include making big pieces of meat into small pieces of meat.