Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Artisan butchers may be few, but they are dedicated to preserving the craft
Here's more about Hamm's Custom Meats in McKinney and Ye Ole Butcher Shop in Plano.
Several decades ago, finding a mom-and-pop butcher shop to purchase pork ribs or a side of beef was not a difficult task.
Fast forward to today and most of these shops have disappeared -- gone the way of the neighborhood cobbler, cooper, and blacksmith. With the loss of shops has come the loss of people willing to put in the years of hard work required to complete the path from meat clerk to apprentice to journeyman and finally, to butcher.
However, a few local butchers are working to ensure the meat-cutting tradition is passed down to future generations. Two of these shops are Hamm's Custom Meats in McKinney and Ye Ole Butcher Shop in Plano. Both shops feature butchers who have been honing their craft since the 1970s.
"A lot of the shops are closing down because the bigger meat companies are cutting the meat so the grocery stores don't have to pay a butcher," said Jeff Sparks, owner of Ye Old Butcher Shop. "The cutting is already being done at the packing plant. The grocery stores don't have to pay a butcher $25 an hour; they can just pay a meat clerk $8 an hour to go set the meat out on the counter."
Sparks said he feels some customers still seek out butcher shops because of the care and work that goes into each cut of meat, even though making a special trip to a butcher shop will never be as convenient as purchasing meat at a grocery store. He said his customers say they can taste the difference, something that causes him great pride.
"We provide a higher quality of beef," Sparks said. "This is our livelihood, so we have to buy a higher grade of beef rather than trying to put out a whole lot of meat at a cheaper price."
As times have changed, so have the surviving neighborhood butcher shops. While they used to simply sell meat, many shops are now selling pre-cooked food to bring in additional customers and income.
"We sell prime and choice beef, but we have also grown our cooked-meat products such as brisket and ribs," said Johnny Galyean, owner of Hamm's Custom Meats. "We also now sell sandwiches Wednesday through Saturday, so we have expanded beyond your typical butcher shop offerings. All shops have done that in order to survive."
Hamm's has been a McKinney institution since 1954, but it was not until three years ago that Galyean and his wife, Carrie, purchased the company. The Galyeans are Hamm's third owners and were responsible for moving the shop to its current location on Louisiana Street. Even with new owners, Johnny said there is still a strong connection to the way the business was run by its founders Everett and Vancie Hamm, who sold the company 12 years ago.
"My butcher Jose Facundo has been here for more than 30 years," Johnny said. "He really is the backbone of our business. He is a master with his knife, and it really is a craft when he cuts meat. He operates the store as if it is his own."
Facundo began working at Hamm's 32 years ago but said he still learns something new every day.
"You will never know everything, especially when you have people moving to the area from other parts of the country," Facundo said. "The meat is the same meat, but people call it by different names. But if you know your cuts, you can talk to the customers and figure it out."
He has taken his willingness to continue learning and put it to good use, teaching his son, Beto, the finer points of taking sides of beef and preparing them for market. The same can be said for Sparks, whose son, Josh, is an apprentice butcher at Ye Ole Butcher Shop.
"I would come up here and work over the summer when I wasn't in school," Josh said. "I just loved working with my dad. I have a passion for this job."
Cutting meat is not something that can be learned from a book, Jeff said. Instead, the only way to become proficient is by practicing.
"It is going to take you about four years of full-time work before you are a butcher," Jeff said. "You have to learn about all of the different muscles and where the different steaks come from on the cow. You have to learn how to cut on the proper angle so the meat is tender when it is cooked."
Jeff currently has two apprentices -- Josh and Tony Brogna, a former cook who decided he wanted to learn more about where the meat he cooked came from. Brogna said he has learned that being a butcher, like being a chef, is all about having passion and respect for the food and the job.
"Seeing the customers' faces is the best part," he said. "Jeff has a lot of repeat customers. A lot of them grew up in the neighborhood and have been coming here since they were kids. He has been in the neighborhood so long he knows customers as well as their children and grandchildren."
No one knows for certain what lies ahead for the independent butcher. Jeff said people's habits have changed to the point we will likely never see a butcher shop in every neighborhood, but customers who demand the best cuts of meat should keep shops like his, as well as Hamm's, in business.
"In a lot of cases both the husband and wife are working, and when they get home from work they don't feel like cooking a big meal," Jeff said. "They are not buying the big sides of beef like they used to and filling up the freezer. They are not cooking at home anymore, so there are not as many butchers or bakers. All the traditional trades are dying out. It is a shame. People ought to want to pay more for higher-quality products -- especially the ones that go in their mouths."
Pegasus News Content partner - Star Local News
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