MIAMI — Meat consumption is soaring to record levels — even though 12 percent of Americans ages 18 to 49 are partially vegan or vegetarian, according to a 2016 Pew Research Poll. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expecting each American to consume a record amount of red meat and poultry — an average of 222 pounds per person. That’s 20 pounds more meat per person, per year, than in 2014.
Another change: where Americans are buying their meat. While many still drop into the nearest big box store to snag their burgers and hot dogs, an increasing number of conscious eaters are going old school by shopping at carnicerias and specialty butcher shops.
Even though 10 percent of U.S. butcher shops have closed since 2010, many specialty meat markets have carved out a niche by offering personalized customer service and products that aren’t widely available. New shops are opening as well, spurred by a younger, more health-conscious generation seeking meats sans antibiotics and hormones — and in some cases, craft beer to wash it all down.
“Two-thirds of consumers say clean eating is a path to better eating,” said Darren Seifer, a food-and-beverage analyst at the consumer market research firm NPD Group. “ That means that ‘I want to know what happened to this livestock before it hits the shelf.’ By going to the local butcher, consumers have a tighter connection to the supply chain than at larger stores.”
Danny Johnson agrees. “There’s kind of a renaissance right now as people look into where their food comes from and how they’re raised,” said Johnson, co-owner of Taylor’s Market in Sacramento and member of The Butchers Guild, a national butchers trade organization. “Earlier it was about convenience, but now it has come full circle.”
The old guard
In Miami, many of the city’s traditional butcher shops and carnicerias came with immigrants starting new lives in the U.S.
Laurenzo’s Italian Market, located in North Miami Beach, was established in 1951 by second-generation Italian-Americans Ben Laurenzo and his brother Achilles. After Ben passed in January, his son, David, took on the operation while his son Robert mans the butcher shop and daughter Carol runs the office.
The ambiance of Old Italy permeates the store. Big band music rings through the aisles stocked with wines and pasta. Half the store is lined with meat displays: sliced deli cuts, mussels and fish, aged sirloin steaks and lamb chops and pork tenderloins, all sourced in the United States. Homemade Italian sausages, New York strips and rib-eye steaks sell best in the market. Like many other butcher shops, it also has a cafe. Baked ziti, lasagna, veal and peppers and other traditional Italian dishes are served up to order or buffet style.
David credits Laurenzo’s longevity to personalized, intimate service. Spend any time in the store and you’ll find several generations of the same family shopping there — grandparent, parent, child.
Charlie Rosenberg and his family have been going to Laurenzo’s since the 1980s.
“They just have stuff you can’t find anywhere else,” said Rosenberg, citing the lump crab meat and genuine Italian sausages.
Graziano’s Market began as a small butcher shop in Buenos Aires owned by husband and wife Mario and Maria Graziano. In 1989, the two opened up the first of Graziano’s five stores scattered from Weston to Coral Gables. The company, which also boasts four full-service restaurants, sources its meat from certified Angus farms in the U.S.
“There are less butcher shops now than before,” said co-owner Leo Graziano. “Other big chains have swallowed the little ones.” But like Laurenzo’s, the Grazianos say their connection with customers and unique inventory are big pluses.
“People can come in and our butchers will walk them through the best cuts and practices for whatever they want to barbecue,” said Cecilia Graziano, Leo’s sister, who handles public relations.
Meat your neighbors
There’s plenty of fans of fresh meat in the Sauk Valley, too.
In Rock Falls, the owners of The Butcher Shop sharpened their cleavers and opened their doors last year at 3309 W. Rock Falls Road, the former site of meat distributor Rock River Provision, which closed in 2009 after more than 50 years, amid a deepening recession.
Owner Dale Pfundstein, along with co-owners and husband and wife Pattie and Kent Farley of Chadwick opened the shop Nov. 17. The shop sells locally sourced fresh meat – some of it from Pfundstein’s farm – both in smaller quantities and in bulk to both retail customers and restaurants – as well as chicken, pork, deli meat, cheese, rubs and spices, frozen soups, and more.
Pfundstein, 65, a lifelong local cattle farmer, said customers are happy to see a local meat shop return.
“The people are unbelievable [and] supportive of the butcher shop,” he said.
In Fulton, a butcher shop that’s been around for decades is still going strong. In fact, a longtime employee recently took over the reigns at Fulton Meat Market, 222 11th Ave.
Greg Anderson bought the shop in September from Tom Maus, 72, who retired after 34 years. Before taking over, Anderson, 52, worked there for 16 years, and he’s been in the meat business since 1989. Maus bought the business in 1983, which had been around before then, as the Fulton Locker Service.
The shop offers meat – fresh cut and smoked – cheese and a host of other food products. It also does catering.
The new wave
Freddy and Danielle Kaufmann, co-owners of Proper Sausages in Miami, have been in the meat business for only 5 years. They are part of a new generation of butchers catering to a health-conscious generation — the four in 10 Americans who favor organic and non-GMO foods.
“Who are our customers?” said Freddy Kaufmann. “They’re people who care about everything except price — taste, sourcing and healthiness.”
The store also serves hot meals and craft beer and the Kaufmanns have their sausages and bacon featured on the menus of trendy restaurants around town; there’s even talk of expansion up the entire East Coast.
Freddy is a self-proclaimed food fanatic who waxes passionately about the importance of sourcing and the evils of processed foods.
“There’s this weird culture in the United States where you can’t enjoy good food to be healthy,” said Freddy. He blames food science, pointing to the years of studies and trends. In his view, food should be both healthy and delicious.
When Javier Guerrero moved from Colombia to Miami, he stayed true to his profession. Shortly after moving, he opened Carniceria Los Paisas & Deli Market in Kendale Lakes in 2007,is tucked inside a strip mall, near a barber shop, dry cleaner and Latino restaurant.
“Our business strategy is simple,” said Jonny Guerrero, Javier’s son and one of three butchers at the carniceria. “We sell fresh, high-quality meat — big supermarkets buy in bulk, not in quality — and we provide personalized service to our customers. We’re also open 7 days a week, because my dad says if you’re not going to work, then you should retire.”
Jose Luis Perez has frequented the shop for the past 12 years, since he came across a newspaper ad.
“They’re a little more expensive… but it’s worth it for the quality of the meat and the way they treat the customer,” Perez said.
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed locally.
The Butcher Shop’s Pattie Farley said they’ve met a lot of new people and made some new friends at the shop, and it’s been wonderful “to see the people that come in, the customers that come in, and to hear their stories,” she said.
In a 2015 interview, Fulton Meat Market’s former owner, Tom Maus, summed up his philosophy of local butcher shops
“What makes us better? What we buy, how we cut it,” he said. “All of our fresh meats, our service counters. We wait on all of our customers. There’s no pre-packaging. It’s what you buy, how you handle it, and how you take care of each customer that sets you apart.”