By Lara Alexander
Bill the Butcher’s white outline of a cow has marked the window on the corner of 4th and Main for months now, teasing the folks of Edmonds. “We’ll have the doors open before school gets out!” promises J’Amy Owens, a co-founder and current CEO of the company. “A lot of unseen work has already been done, new electric, plumbing and floor drain,” she explains. “Starting on Monday, we are ready to begin putting in the coolers, the counters, then bring in the inventory.”
Bill the Butcher was founded in 2009 and has opened six neighborhood butcher shops around Puget Sound since. There had been rumors of a Ballard store opening around the same time as the Edmonds location, but plans to convert an old garage in Ballard fell though. “We are looking for a new space, we really want to be in Ballard,” assures Owens. Next on the list of ambitions are shop in Wallingford, Kirkland and Mercer Island.
Coming under fire in the past for a lack of transparency about their vendors, it looks like the company has done an about-face. The butchers behind the counter can tell an inquisitive customer where each steak, chop or wing in the butcher case came from, who raised it and what it ate, Ownes says. A directory of vendors is kept beside the butcher case for customers to flip through and read about each rancher or farmer who raises animals for Bill the Butcher. “It’s the most transparent system anywhere,” Owens says.
Bill the Butcher is known for its selection of organic and “natural” meats. The company defines the “Bill the Butcher Natural” standard as free of antibiotics, hormones and steroids, humanely raised, pastured and “as local as possible.” All of the beef is grass-fed, but not necessarily grass-finished, meaning that some of the cows are fattened up on grains for the last few months before slaughter.
The company pays a visit to each of its suppliers and Owens boasts she has a “first-name relationships” with all of them. On the day that I spoke to Owens, she had a crew from the company out to visit a local rancher. “She is my hero!” she gushed, speaking about Becky Harlow Weed, the Washington rancher who is selling Bill the Butcher two to four cows a month. “I have never felt as proud of what we are doing as I did today,” says Owens of her visit to the ranch, where she says Harlow Weed rotationally grazes her 100 head of cattle. Owens and her crew visited the herd and stayed for the slaughter, taking place a couple of miles away.
Owens becomes animated when talking about her business model of working with small producers, “We are above farmers markets and below grocery stores (in volume)” Owens explains, “We buy direct from the farmer and pay them more money. Small farmers are trying to sell directly to the consumer – standing out in the rain all winter in a tent at a famers market.” They are too small to have the inventory to sell to stores like PCC and Whole Foods, says Owens. Bill the Butcher works with 50 different “local” farmers and ranchers, buying about 14 cows, 24 pigs, 40 lambs and 10 goats per month to stock the stores’ meat cases. Owens states that all of their meat comes from Washington, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming, although the vendor list does include a few suppliers as far away as California and South Dakota.
Even if every steak in the butcher case did not come from a Washington farm, origin labeling is a move in a positive direction for consumers with an eye for quality and sustainability. For Edmonds residents who appreciate a more personalized customer service experience, getting to know the local butcher by name will be a welcome addition to our small town, and just in time for barbecue season!
BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA
From Bill the Butcher’s Michael LaRoche
Pick out four beef steaks, a good cut for the grill (ask your butcher!)
Mince a small sprig of rosemary and two cloves of garlic. Mix into a few tablespoons of olive oil and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Use this marinade to coat the steaks.
Heat the grill. Season the steaks with kosher salt. Grill for 5 to 10 minutes on each side, until the desired doneness. Serve with a sprig of rosemary for garnish.