Coping During the Pandemic at NYC Butcher Hudson & Charles
By Kim Dietrich, kimdietrich.ca with No Ounce Wasted Host Bryan Mayer
The Butchers Guild of America exists to advance the craft butchery movement while upholding its moral code. To that end, recently appointed Executive Director Bryan Mayer sits down with industry leaders on his podcast No Ounce Wasted. A recent conversation with J. Fox of New York’s Hudson & Charles Grass-Fed Butcher Shop highlighted the relationship-based nature of their industry and revealed how their business has managed to thrive during the pandemic.
- Fox and husband Kevin Haverty opened their nose-to-tail butcher shop, Hudson & Charles, in 2013. Located on the New York City’s West Village, they are deeply connected to the neighborhood. Their standout business model saw them align themselves with one farm from the very beginning. This move, Bryan suggests, harkens back to the beginnings of the small butcher shop movement of the early 2000s, where the butcher shop began serving as a proxy for the farmer.
Each Tuesday, for seven years running, they’ve travelled upstate to Autumn’s Harvest Farm where owners Tim & Sarah Haws raise grass-fed beef, pastured pork, and free-range chickens. In 2016, noticing a dearth of offerings on the Upper West Side, Hudson & Charles opened a second location. As owner-operators, the couple puts their heart and soul into the business. It’s not unusual for them to work 80 to 100 hours a week, each doing the job of two employees, to keep costs down and the business afloat.
Delving into their shared background, Bryan brings the conversation around to the Hudson & Charles internship program. In their desire to “pass on their knowledge without monetization,” it’s evident that the owners view education as integral to the craft. Rooted in training young professionals in the art of whole animal butchery, the program also ventures beyond the trade’s technical aspects. They instruct their charges in an array of operational minutiae, along with the particularly vital, relationship-centered aspects of running a butcher shop.
As Bryan and J. Fox discuss, customers don’t visit their neighborhood butcher merely to purchase a cut of meat. Rather, their shopping choice speaks to personal values and a desire for community connection. In opening their wallets at the local butcher shop – with undeniably premium pricing – customers show favor not only for healthy lifestyle choices, but also for personal relationships over concern for just the bottom line.
Honoring that premise, Hudson & Charles recognizes that the best butchers not only sell meat, they also work to educate their customers. They can tell you where their product came from, why sustainability matters and further advise you on cooking methods and preparations. The apprenticeship program highlights not only how to break down a whole animal, but how to connect with the person buying the end product. That relationship is vital the craft; as Bryan recalls learning early in his career, “We don’t sell meat, we sell trust.”
Bryan steers the conversation to the pandemic’s effects on the industry. Designated an essential service from the very beginning, Hudson & Charles continued to operate during widespread shutdowns. They’ve taken pains to assure customers of their diligence in “keeping our shops at Hudson & Charles a safe place to be.” Safety measures include everything from offering early-morning shopping times for seniors to limiting shop capacity, disinfecting surfaces hourly and making masks compulsory for both employees and customers. Additionally, they’ve installed special, medical-grade ultra-violet lighting for air and surface disinfection.
Asked how they have coped with the stress of working non-stop through the pandemic’s early days, Fox admits that it’s been challenging. Despite the stress and anxiety surrounding them though, the staff has rallied. He likens the workflow to a particularly busy holiday period and describes turning to each other to blow off steam. Around the butcher block they crack jokes to relieve stress, but when a customer enters the shop it’s back to business.
There is no denying that the shopping experience has been impacted. Mask-wearing, while an important safety measure, has introduced a physical barrier between butcher and customer. To counter that reality, J. Fox likes to call out a greeting to shoppers as they enter the store. “Butcher shops can be intimidating to begin with,” he says. Breaking the ice with a moment of personal connection when someone walks in is a small touch that goes a long way. While they may not recognize a masked customer straight away, they do their best to personalize each experience.
If anything, the emergence of Covid-19 has served to highlight the fundamental nature of the local butcher shop in our food supply chain. Faced with empty shelves at big box stores in the early, panic-buying stage of the pandemic, local residents found comfort in returning not only to their own communities, but also to the warm welcome extended by their local butcher. In that moment of fundamental human connection, the importance of the small butcher is more evident than ever.
Listen to No Ounce Wasted show here: https://www.inspiredchoicesnetwork.com/media/coping-and-thriving-in-the-pandemic-guest-jfox-of-hudson-charles-grass-fed-butcher/
Kim Dietrich is a freelance writer specializing in lifestyle, career and business writing for online and print media. Her work has appeared in Toronto Life magazine, East Coast Living and Saturday Night.