I'll Have What I'm Having
The Butcher & Grocer
Watershed Distillery sat down with Butcher & Grocer owner/founder Tony Tanner and head butcher Dustin Butler to chat about the inspiration behind the Grandview butcher shop where they are focused on going back to the basics and bringing our community healthier, tastier meat that has been sourced locally and raised responsibly.
Watershed: So let’s start by telling a little bit of the story of The Butcher & Grocer and how this business came to be.
Tony: I’m born and raised in Columbus. I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve never lived on a street that doesn’t intersect with east broad St. so, I’m a lifer, East side!
About four years ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, and it was a cancer that was most commonly found in people over the age of 75 who had smoked, or were smokers, and he was a 45-year-old dude who worked out every day. He and I were turkey hunting in 2014, in April, and I was talking to him about his cancer and I was like ‘how does this happen?’ because he was an analytical guy, I mean IBM all the way through, he probably over-analyzed his cancer to the point where he probably knew more than his doctors. But he was convinced it was from the food he was eating, and specifically animal proteins. If you look at how they’re processed around the country, and what we end up getting - how it’s shipped to us, how long it’s stored, what it eats- I mean all the way through its life cycle. He died in November of that year. So I decided I was going to start trying to source my food to keep myself from getting some rare ass cancer that no one should have at my age. So I started going to a butcher shop, and I took a class there, and I was doing the math in my head “how are you able to raise all this, and produce what you do?” and they basically said “well, we supplement what we get.” I found out that not only do they supplement what they get, but they don’t tell you when you’re getting the supplemented meat. So that ended my relationship with that particular butcher shop. Then I found out that pretty much everybody else does it too. So, I started chasing farmers around farmer’s markets, and you get there, and they’re out of everything, and it’s frozen, or it’s half thawed, so then, what do you do? I finally decided I have to put up or shut up, and told my wife “I’m going to open a butcher shop.” she’s like “you don’t even know how to butcher anything.” I wanted to put on a pork butchery class for some hunting friends, and I actually contacted the butcher shop that I was using, and asked if they would meet with me and talk about this and so they sent someone who I had never met before, and I told him my idea, and my idea at the time was a butcher shop, a beer store, and a coffee shop all in one place and it turns out he had a similar idea. That was May of ’15. July of ’16, we’re open. I still have my job so I rely on Dustin to make sure things are happening the way they are supposed to.
"The hardest part about this thing was in that year finding farmers. You realize quickly how small that community of people who give a shit how they raise their animals is."
Watershed: That’s a pretty quick turnaround time from idea to opening.
Tony: Once I get in my head that I want to do something it’s like well, I’ll figure it out. That made it sound very smooth, but we looked at two different buildings, some farmers came in, some farmers came out. The hardest part about this thing was in that year finding farmers. You realize quickly how small that community of people who give a shit how they raise their animals is. Now that we’re kind of here, and people know what we’re doing, everyone wants to sell us six pigs a week, and we don’t even go through six pigs a week. We were always wondering how long it would be until farmers started contacting us … it was like two months man.
Dustin: Like as soon as we opened the doors.
Tony- now we’ve got two pig farmers, a lamb farmer, chicken farmer, egg farmer, two beef farmers, a duck farmer, one of our cheese people.
Dustin- The end goal, for that case that has the charcuterie, is that someday it is made all with local hogs that we source here, that we make ourselves, or that we have partners that we make it with.
Watershed: You said that you looked at two different buildings, was it always going to be in Grandview?
Tony- Yeah. It was the density of people who care about this kind of stuff. We knew how big we had to be, to make money. Grandview just made sense with Rife’s leaving, and there’s a bunch of other craft type people in Grandview. We started off looking up at Chambers and Northwest Blvd., but then we found this place (1st Ave).
Watershed: Tell us a little bit more about the community around here.
Tony: The community has been great. We very quickly established some regulars. There’s a couple that comes in every Friday and buys a pound of ground beef, and she says it’s the best ground beef she’s ever had. So it’s been great to have our regulars, but now we’re picking up restaurants.
Watershed: Do you feel like you’ve joined a community already in progress, or have you created a community around this place?
Dustin- I definitely think it’s both. I mean, I think great things were happening in Grandview before this opened up. There’s a lot of independent businesses in Grandview which is fantastic, but at the same time we see a lot of people starting to congregate here as well, and I think it is something that Grandview needed and wanted, but we needed Grandview too.
Tony: Every week there’s somebody that says, “I didn’t even know you guys were here.”
They’re coming down from Dublin, Powell, and it’s awesome because our first week open we had this guy come in … we were like how’d you find us, he was like “the guy at the whole foods counter told me. That’s cool.
Dustin: That happens more frequently than you think it would.
Dustin: Another great part about this is having people come into the community. They’re learning the other small businesses in Grandview that they didn’t know existed, like me personally, I live up around the university, half the stuff around here, I didn’t know it existed until I came down here, now I shop in the area at the independent retailers, it’s great.
Watershed: What can you tell us about how you choose the farmers you work with, and what’s important to you?
Tony: Local is number one. Tied is local and raised properly. If we can’t get it local, we get what we can get regionally. Whenever we post on social media, whenever we’re talking, those people will hear more about our farmers than they’ll hear about us, because we can’t do it without them. You realize you’re supporting us, but you really made an impact on the farmer. The beef farmer has the pig farmer’s pigs on his property, who also eat the beef farmer’s corn, and is reclaiming his pasture … it’s a big circle of weirdness, but it’s awesome. Finding the farmers, they have to do it the right way, it’s vital, everything that’s in the case, other than what’s imported, we’ve all been on the farms. We don’t bring a farmer in, unless we go visit their farm.
Watershed: When you say doing it the right way, can you go into more depth of what that means? What difference that makes to the quality of the product?
Dustin: There’s a lot of differences in quality, the way the proteins work, the tenderness of the meat, a lot of it has to do with the way the animal was raised. Obviously we hear a lot about antibiotics and growth hormones, and this is a part of it. It is also how the animal is handled, whether it be at the farm, or in transport, at the slaughterhouse; and that can make a major difference in the final product that you get. If it’s mistreated in any way, or if it’s stressed, then you end up with a tougher cut of meat, and all in all, it’s just not a good product. On our end, if it’s mistreated, we wouldn’t want to handle it.
Tony: You’ll taste the difference, really is where it’s at.
Dustin: It’s amazing, and another beautiful part of working with local farmers and working directly with the farmer is that we don’t have a cookie cutter product, every animal is different in its own way, and it’s always in a good way.
Watershed: You touched on this briefly, but we’d love to hear about some of the struggles you had opening this place.
Tony: One of the first challenges was that no one at the health department had opened up a butcher shop, so it was a learning curve for both sides. The things these guys were used to doing, they had no clue, so there was education both ways. Our biggest challenge was the ramp that you walk up to get in here. We had an ADA issue, we thought we had fixed, they came out and said it wasn’t fixed … and that kept us from opening for two weeks. It was actually a blessing in disguise because had we opened when we wanted to, we probably would have been in pretty bad shape because the numbers that came through the door on our first day, we couldn’t have handled the day before.
Dustin: I would have had a heart attack, so Tony would have been down a butcher.
Tony: It was all timing. We were all on such edge, because we’re dealing with product that can’t go bad so we had to get the coolers, we had to get occupancy permit, coolers had to be on, and at temperature so we could accept the animals, but we couldn’t do any of that until we had our inspection, so everything just happened.
"It’s a lot of fun to teach people, and it’s a lot of fun to see the reaction, and then also realize that they are becoming excited about this kind of fresh food. That’s really important not just to us, but for the entire culture in general. "
Watershed: Is there a learning curve for your customers to understand what exactly is going on here?
Dustin: The biggest learning curve, which our customers have been so great about this, was the fact that we do run out of stuff, and when we run out, we can’t get a shipment in, we have to wait until the animal comes, and we have to break the animal down. If we run out of filet on a Friday, you’re going to have to wait until Tuesday afternoon to get it.
It’s a lot of fun to teach people, and it’s a lot of fun to see the reaction, and then also realize that they are becoming excited about this kind of fresh food. That’s really important not just to us, but for the entire culture in general. For our kids, for everybody, being able to eat well raised proteins, and other things, well raised cheese. It’s important and people are excited that they can finally really do it.
Watershed: What’s next for The Butcher & Grocer?
Tony: Our biggest thing right now is to continue to keep up, and stay on top of the food trends that people want, but then also to look at getting and being an advocate for more restaurants to put this kind of stuff on their menus. We haven’t quite figured out how to bridge that gap, because no restaurant wants two hams, two front legs, two tenderloins. They want six tenderloins, and we aren’t into genetically modifying pigs to grow six of those so we want to bring the local farm culture back up where it was, and really have people buying their meat as local to their home as they can. We’re going to keep growing organically. We have to take it easy, and not get too far ahead of ourselves, because we’re still establishing where we are right now.
Dustin: We still need the people in the neighborhood to know we’re here first.
Tony: We want to try to get as many people doing it the way we’re doing it in more neighborhoods. They don’t all have to be this big, so how do we do it?
Watershed: Where do you see Columbus going as a city?
Tony: I think it’s all of us supporting what we do. It’s about coming up with infrastructures to support each other.
Dustin: A lot of things I hear people complain about in Columbus, and this isn’t a bad thing, Columbus isn’t like Cincinnati, or Cleveland, or Toledo, it doesn’t have the history, that those cities have. When it comes to food, we have a lot of chains here, people are irked by the lack of history, and food here. I think things like this, not just what we’re doing, what the restaurants are doing, I think we can actually start to build a history in Columbus. It doesn’t have to be in the 1800s, you can start from scratch, and build what you want, and I think Columbus is ready for that.
For more information on The Butcher & Grocer visit www.thebutcherandgrocer.com