Diary of a Meat Shop

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

Diary of a Meat Shop // III

Meat Shop sandwich We’re opening up a third location–this time, a butcher shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul. Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. Look for our shop in June!

Of course, our new butcher shop will have sandwiches. Of course! It's one of our favorite things to champion at the Cheese Shops. But because the Meat Shop is just a 5-minute walk from our cheese shop on Grand Ave, we knew the Meat Shop sandwiches would have to be their own thing--a brand new army of lunchtime goodies.

I love a great sandwich, but I'm consistently frustrated by the choices here in the Twin Cities. I never seem to find exactly what I'm craving. So when we started messing around with the sandwich menu for the Meat Shop, my first inclination was towards the killer pastrami sandwich I've been dreaming of. It’s a bit of an obsession and really difficult to get right. But I figured a new butcher shop would be the perfect excuse to give it a shot!

Our team members are big fans of composed sandwiches, as opposed to the Subway-like choose-your-own-adventure style. On a composed sandwich, each ingredient is purposeful and doesn't compete with the rest of its friends in between the bread. We've been working for months now on a set of composed sandwiches--including that fabled pastrami--that will wow our Meat Shop patrons.

As of this blog post, we are still working on the pastrami. And if it isn’t exactly right by the time we open, then we’ll just have to open without it. But that's because recipe testing for every aspect of this new business has been exhaustive. Recipe testing is a funny thing because it's like working in a vacuum. We know what we think is delicious and we just have to hope that our customers will enjoy what we come up with. In the past, our team has obsessed over a detail at one of our shops for hours, only to realize that the idea wasn’t quite right in the first place. To combat this, I’ve eaten countless iterations of sandwiches, cookies, spice rubs, marinades, and more. Tough work, I know. And this testing doesn’t even include the 15 different NY Strips our team has consumed from every meat counter in town. But I'm hoping this attention to detail will equal a menu that satisfies some of the other latent sandwich cravings floating around the Twin Cities and keep our customers coming back for a sandwich they can count on.

Want a preview of the menu? See it here >>

--Benjamin Roberts, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

Diary Of A Meat Shop // Part I

meat shop construction We're opening up a third location--this time, a butcher shop! Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. Stay tuned!

It’s been six years since France 44 last opened a new business. Our original cheese shop at 44th and France had been open a little more than a year when we decided to just go for it and open up a smaller sister store on Grand Avenue in St Paul. I couldn't have imagined it would be another six years before we embarked on a new venture.

We’ve been looking at real estate across the Twin Cities for the last several years, hoping for the perfect place. A couple of prospects were intriguing but didn’t come together in the end, so we kept on shuffling. But this winter, our search finally ended when a space opened up a couple of blocks away from our St Paul cheese shop. Mac-Groveland has been a wonderful, supportive neighborhood and we knew exactly what we would do at 1674 Grand Avenue—a butcher shop called The St Paul Meat Shop.

Our first challenge was to transform a former hair salon (with one helluva bright purple awning) into an empty box of a space. That meant removing a staircase which interrupted the retail space and then tearing the entire place down to the studs. Several months of demolition later, we were left with a clean slate. Call up the architect, draw up some plans, and start crunching some numbers! We've got work to do.

--Benjamin, Cheesemonger-In-Chief