This is a three-part interview. Part One and Part Two are also available.
Co-owner/butcher Jarrod Spangler, along with partner Shannon Hill and apprentice Anthony Bernier, opened MEat just a few weeks ago, following a massively successful Kickstarter campaign. The shop is introducing southern Maine to all-local, whole animal butchery.
In Part One of our interview, Spangler discussed the booming neighborhood of Kittery Foreside and the beauty of customer enthusiasm. In Part Two, he mused about future growth as well as the funny perception of meat that people have. In the third and final piece of the interview, he talks about introducing people to new and interesting recipes like head cheese, his favorite cuts of meat (basically all of it), and the "straight up hard work" required to grow the business.
What's your staff like right now?
It's Shannon and I and we have one apprentice, Anthony. Shannon and I met through mutual friends at a restaurant in South Berwick, from a very close friend of ours who passed away a couple years ago. When we were working there, there was a young kid who was washing dishes. He's since traveled around, he worked and studied in Denmark for a while for art, he's been involved with food for years, and we always talked about him learning to butcher the past four or five years. When we finally got things set up, he was first on the list as far as offering the job. He was pumped about it, we're happy to have him, he's a hard working kid, definitely helps take some things off my plate.
As with any apprentice, it takes time to train people and get them comfortable with breaking down whole pork shoulders, breaking down legs, trimming things out to make smoked hams…there's a lot of stuff to learn. I think as time goes on we'll become more efficient because he'll start to pick up more and understand more, and we'll keep on growing and be able to branch out and do more stuff. For right now it's just the three of us, and it's a lot to do for us. It's basically just the two of us who are cutting and processing. Shannon has enough on her plate trying to take care of the retail aspect of the store, she's taking care of all the accounting, trying to get orders in…. It's kind of funny, the amount of things that are not meat related that have to get done when you run a shop!
I knew that this was going to be six, eight, ten months of straight up hard work. I did it at Rosemont, I built that program from basically myself into…by the time that I left there, we were growing it like 40% in sales every year. To take something that was very small and build it, it took me three, three and a half years to do it, but in the end you look back and you're like, "I can't believe we started off with just the two of us." Just a few years later we're running five guys behind the counter, we're doing meat for all three stores, doing all the prepared foods, all sorts of different projects. It's fun. The evolution of the shop, if you will, is I think what's the most exciting part of it.
I've got so many different things that I'd like to do, from all the experiences of my life I definitely have a huge base of recipes and different products that I make. To be able to find the time to add those things to the mix and introduce those to people…. I worked with a very talented salumaio over in Italy who taught me how to make a really interesting style of head cheese called Gallentina, which is basically de-boned pigs heads and tongues and trotters, brined and cooked, and pressed into a big hand press. When you do thin slices of it on the slicer, you get these little chunks of meat and tongue and thin but soft pieces of skin, such an amazing flavor. To show people new things like that, that's what we really like to do. We'll get there as time goes on but you have to start off kind of small and not beat yourself up in the beginning. There's only so much we can do!
Do you have a favorite cut of meat?
Oh boy. It's funny, every customer is like, "So what's your favorite?" I'm like, "Uhhhh, kind of all of it?" There's certain pork chops I cut for myself, I always cut myself the first pork chop off the loin coming from the shoulder because it's almost like the rib eye, it's got that beautiful extra cap on the outside of it, a little extra fat around it, I find that the pork chops from the front of the loin are a little sweeter and they stay juicier as you cook them. But in all honesty, a beautiful dry-aged chop sirloin steak, a beautiful pork chop, and something as simple as a house-made hot dog, I love all of it. It's tough to single out one particular thing because I started to do this because I loved all of it, not just one little thing. That's what helps us actually accomplish all of this stuff.
Hot dogs vs. hamburgers on the grill?
I've been squirreling away a bunch of dry-aged trim. When we're breaking down dry-aged rib eyes we pull the caps off of them, we pull a little bit of the trim off the sides, we have these dry-aged chunks that aren't necessarily going to be cut into steaks, so we make a really nice dry-aged ground beef out of all that, that has an amazingly deep flavor. Chances are I'm going to be grilling some dry-aged ground beef burgers. And maybe slices of pork jowl bacon on top of them.
Wow. The pull of your shop and places like The Black Birch is strong down there.
Yeah, [co-owners] Ben and Gavin are close friends of mine. That's the other nice thing about being in this area: There's a lot of support. I've worked with Ben and Gavin for years, all the way back to when they were working across the street at Anneke Jans, and the gentleman who opened up Anju Noodle Bar next door, we all used to work together back in the day for that same company, and now we're all in the same space here, and it's fun to do some collaborative work. You're having shitty days and Ben and Gavin are like, "Oh, you're doing fine." It's nice to have support. When shit goes wrong with them, to be able to help them out, it's a nice mix of good people in this area.
Once again, that important idea of community?
Without our community we wouldn't be able to do anything. It's fun to…I've always wanted to have a small, neighborhood-focused shop. When we found the space here in Kittery back in January, it just all clicked and it was like, "Alright!" And I'd been looking at all these other spaces, and nothing ever really felt right, but all of a sudden it had that right feel to it. It's been, Jesus, building the shop and trying to juggle everything is definitely stressful, but just being able to open up the doors and do what we do and have people excited about it, it makes it all worthwhile. It's been an interesting six months!
That sounds great. I'm a fan of that European style of specialized markets so you can walk around every couple days and get everything you need.
That's kind of the way we tried to set the shop up. The shop has a great feel to it, lots of reclaimed wood. A friend of ours did a beautiful, beautiful reclaimed wood floor in here that's just amazing. Like 18-inch wide, old pine flooring, it's gorgeous. It definitely has that…it's a new shop, but it has this really great, old, comfortable feel, almost like it's been here forever.
Hopefully it will be.
That's what we're hoping for! Alright, I gotta get back there, I got pigs to break down…we got shit to do.
· Jarrod Spangler of MEat, Interview Part One and Part Two [-EME-]
· MEat [Website, Facebook, Twitter]
· "The Butcher of Rosemont" [Maine Magazine]
· "Kittery, Maine, is no longer gritty, but a happening place these days" [Washington Post]
· All MEat Coverage [-EME-]
· All The Five Days of Meat Coverage [-EME-]