For meat heads, it’s prime time

Local markets beef up business

By Katy Jordan 


Photo by Ted Fitzgerald

a long trend of stringy business for the endangered neighborhood
butcher shop, there are signs that folks are once again flocking to
their local meat cutters.

Boston, once home to scores of ethnic butchers, now has a modest
five to 10 such stores. Local meat sellers say it is impossible to
compete with supermarkets, which reduce meat prices because they can
offset any losses through higher costs on other consumer goods.

Still, new shops have opened in recent months as consumers trend toward neighborhood buying.

“Supermarkets work on a low margin that gives you the impression
meat isn’t worth a whole lot,” said Mike Dulock, owner of Concord Prime
& Fish, He specializes in whole-animal butchering and features
local, grass-fed beef. Dulock says meat should be treated as a valuable

Last year, he opened his specialty butcher shop even though Concord has just 17,000 residents. He said a need was not being met.

“Growing up we had a butcher shop. My mother wouldn’t buy meat in a supermarket,” he said.

“The concept behind my shop is a neighborhood market where we can
help people. I’m bringing it back to a time when service was
paramount,” said Dulock, who knows many customers by name.

‘The whole animal’

Despite the sagging economy, his business, which opened in October,
remains profitable, he said. Buying whole or part of the animal helps
reduce cost for customers, too, he said.

“In a retail environment, you have parts you can’t sell, so you mark
up what you can sell. But if someone is willing to go sustainable,
they’re getting offal, oxtail, hamburger, everything – they’re getting
the whole animal.”

While the notion of using a whole animal is enough to make many Americans cringe, it is a way of life for many immigrants.

The meat counter at Hamdi Market in Roxbury Crossing features few pre-cut selections.

Instead, customers ask Abdoul Bah, the butcher, for beef, goat, chicken or lamb – but no pork.

The two-month-old market, near the new Roxbury mosque, caters
largely to the Muslim community and is strictly “halal,” meaning it
vends only what is permissible under Islamic law.

To fill orders, Bah disappears into the walk-in locker, where whole
lambs hang near large sides of beef, and he breaks down the meat
according to wishes. It is the only way, he said, to ensure freshness.

The meat, Bah said, is never more than one day old.

His customers are not all Muslim. “We’re for the Muslim community,
and non-Muslim. They come not just because of Allah, but because it’s
fresh,” he said.

Butcher shops are now catering to niche shoppers, or customers with
specific needs. It’s an area where larger markets, which serve general
shoppers, can’t compete.

Know your meat

Lionette’s Market in the South End operates exclusively on a
sustainability model – from the local meat down to the bike deliveries
that bring meat orders to your door.

Jamey Lionette, the store’s owner, said people increasingly want more information about their food.

“People want to start knowing where they’re getting their food
from,” he said. “We need to start buying from our neighbors and stop
going to supermarkets,” he said. Butcher shops focused on dividing the
animal, instead of removing it already segmented from large, cardboard
boxes, produce better butchers, he added.

“Butcher skills were lacking because no one needed to cut meat
anymore,” Lionette said, referring to the shift in recent decades to
buying meat from giant combines where cattle are slaughtered,
butchered, packed and shipped.

Savenor’s Market, with shops in Cambridge and Beacon Hill, has been
around since 1939, making it one of the oldest family butcher shops in
Boston. The family also operates a wholesale division that sells to
local restaurants.

Owner Ron Savenor, who is also the butcher and who bought the
business from his father Jack Savenor in 1988, has seen the city change
over the decades.

“People want to go back to the local market,” said Ron Savenor, “as supermarkets get bigger, the more they come back to me.

“For me growing up, you went to the butcher, you went to the corner store, and the guy knew your name,” he said.