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Meat and greet

Jan./Feb. 2014 California Bountiful magazine

San Francisco butcher shop brings community together



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Avedano's co-owners, including Melanie Eisemann, strive to connect customers to their food and their local community.

In the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, residents such as Tony Tredway catch up on the latest happenings over half a hog.

Not only is Avedano's Holly Park Meat Market the first woman-owned and -operated butcher shop in the United States, it has become the cornerstone of the Bay Area neighborhood since its opening in 2007, with the meat counter serving as both a culinary and community-building catalyst.

"They bring this small, local feel to the neighborhood," Tredway said, describing Avedano's as having "a real positive effect."

Yet for Tredway, a self-proclaimed "dedicated meat eater," whose own grandfather was a butcher, the inherent charm of Avedano's is secondary to the caliber of cuts and charcuterie the market offers its customers.

"It's beyond the nostalgia," said Tredway, who said he shops at Avedano's three or four times a week. "They are providing a level of quality and consistency of meat that is hard to find. The flavor is unique. ... I get excited about my food."

Local inspiration

Avedano's owners, Tia Harrison, Angela Wilson and Melanie Eisemann, have dedicated themselves to bringing a premiere product and experience to their customers.


Tony Tredway peruses the meat counter at Avedano's Holly Park Meat Market in San Francisco. Tredway says he shops there three or four times a week and credits the market for bringing vitality back to the Bernal Heights neighborhood.

The women, all of whom have professional food industry experience, purchase most of the market's meat from small-scale, California farmers and ranchers, such as Charlie Thieriot of Llano Seco Rancho (profiled in the July/August 2013 California Bountiful) and Todd Swickard of Five Dot Ranch. Thieriot raises hogs organically on his family's Northern California ranch, where he has hosted staff from Avedano's, and Swickard is a beef rancher whose family has been in business in California since 1852.

Avedano's co-owners make it a priority to visit all of their vendors and build relationships with the farmers and ranchers responsible for raising the animals that are eventually sold at their meat counter. Avedano's purchases whole animals and must sell all of each animal, not just popular cuts, to survive.


Butcher Christian Shiflett helps promote his profession by mentoring colleagues and teaching classes to the public.

"We try not to put anything in our trash cans," Wilson said. "That's our profit margin right there."

Beyond the basics

In that challenge, the opportunity for creativity abounds. Avedano's butchers offer cuts most consumers are not used to having on their plates, such as braised lamb neck, a favorite of Tredway's.

To build demand for these unique offerings, Avedano's develops its own recipes to share with customers, inspiring them to take marrow bones or quail home, when they might be more accustomed to pork chops and ground beef.

"We have the knowledge and experience and we know how to cook," said Harrison, who is also executive chef and co-owner of Sociale, a popular San Francisco restaurant. "Most people just buy what they are familiar with, but the nice part of a small butcher shop is that you can ask questions and get cooking suggestions. That is the old experience that people used to have, and it's an integral part of our shopping experience. We want to open that experience of how to cook at home and feed your family."


One of Avedano's classes focuses on handmade sausage, shown by Jason Wilcox.

Avedano's also offers classes to its customers and sees six to 12 students a month. Ongoing for four years and taught by Avedano's butcher Christian Shiflett, the classes range from sausage making to advanced butchery.

"People are definitely very interested in butchery," Harrison said. "They want to connect with their food. They want to know what they are eating."

Direct connections

Harrison's and Wilson's own entree into butchery came from that same desire for connection and knowledge.

In her experience cooking for San Francisco residents, Harrison said there was continual conversation about where the food on their plates was coming from. In addition, she was bringing in meat from small-scale farmers, which required the restaurant to butcher in-house. Harrison wanted to hone her skills as a butcher to better understand the entire culinary process.


Angela Wilson, Tia Harrison and Melanie Eisemann, from left, are the force behind the nation's first woman-owned and -operated butcher shop. Photo courtesy of Avedano's

Both Harrison and Wilson relied on books, videos and apprenticeships to learn the art of butchering meat by hand. When they opened Avedano's, they hired skilled butchers who could teach them the trade, as well as mentor the rest of their staff of eight.

This experience, and what Harrison said is a lack of knowledge about the art of butchery, inspired her to found a national butcher's guild, which today boasts 130 members (www.thebutchersguild.org).

Still, the first love for Harrison, Wilson and Eisemann is their butcher shop. The building that is home to Avedano's—Harrison's grandmother's maiden name—has housed only a butcher shop, with the first opening in 1901.

Prior to Avedano's coming in, the building was abandoned. Today, it is a vibrant community hub introducing a new generation to an old business concept.


The building above that houses Avedano's has historically served as a market or butcher shop, with the original butcher shop opening there in 1901.

And it has become a place where people not only shop for food, but learn about it, talk about it and build their lives around it.

"Most customers come from the neighborhood," Wilson said. "Most of our customers come in five days a week. We've seen old people die and babies being born. We know all of the gossip and people tell us everything. A lot of people walk in with strollers and we are part of their normal loop around the neighborhood.

"We have really been able to build relationships in this time. Having this butcher shop has helped us share our values, and in turn, build a community."

Toni Scott
info@californiabountiful.com

Recipe


Photo courtesy of Avedano's


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