This is a three-part interview. Part Two and Part Three are also available.
Jarrod Spangler is known to friends as "Rook," and you may know him as The Butcher of Rosemont, based on a thorough profile from 2012 by Joe Ricchio for Maine Magazine. Whether you know him by his given name, his nickname, his reputation, or not at all, you've likely seen, felt, tasted his impact on the Maine food scene. A Culinary Institute of America graduate and chef by training, he broke down his first animal over a decade ago. He has spent time in Europe honing his skills, and for the past five years butchery has been his sole focus. He developed the now-booming butchery program at Rosemont Market, which has grown to encompass all three of the Rosemont locations and includes all of those stores' prepared foods, meat, and more.
Spangler has had designs on his own butcher shop for a long time. In April, he and his partner Shannon Hill raised $50,841 through Kickstarter to finalize prep work on their very own business in Kittery Foreside. Called MEat, Spangler bills it as southern Maine's first whole animal butcher shop, and its sole focus is locally-, humanely-raised animals. MEat opened virtually silently on June 13, 2014, and despite the lack of advertising, and despite the somewhat confounding name (Spangler laments that online searches are not case sensitive, and Hill says she's in the process of adding "Maine Meat" to the Facebook page), customers are finding and embracing the shop.
While mainly a retail operation (a small one at that: It's Spangler, Hill, and apprentice Anthony Bernier at the moment), MEat just secured its first wholesale partnership with Moxy in Portsmouth, and the owners look forward to steady growth so they can further bridge the gap between local farmers and the plates of customers. In part one of a two-part interview, Spangler speaks about the wonderful business community surrounding him in Kittery Foreside (see Washington Post contributor Kathy Gunst's glowing profile of the area for additional evidence) and the enthusiasm of customers that keeps him going.
How are things going?
All in all, I think we're off to a good start. We finally have a sign up; being open like a week and a half without a sign was tricky, but people are starting to find us, seek us out. We've been open for a little over two weeks now, kind of had a quiet opening weekend, if you will. We just opened up the doors to see how it would go. Fortunately we're in a really great little neighborhood that's starting to see a lot more foot traffic, a lot more revitalization, so without even having a sign or really any advertisement, we had a great start to the shop. It seems like there's quite a bit of interest down here.
Are you familiar with the neck of the woods where we are? It's a cool spot, it's nice to see it coming back alive. I've been helping out at The Black Birch on and off for the past few months. When Lil's Cafe opened up down here last fall, it was funny to instantly watch a quiet little neighborhood in the morning where suddenly there's people out walking around, moms pushing strollers going out to get coffee, and it was kind of the beginning of a change in the area. Lil's is a great coffee shop and pastry place, but to just watch one little business like that, and all of a sudden it started this chain reaction, or definitely pushed it farther ahead.
Sounds like you're in a great location.
There's no one down in this area that's doing anything on a local standpoint like we're trying to do. There's more of a local foods movement happening up north the farther you go, like Portland, up to Augusta, obviously out toward Belfast. There is a huge local foods movement happening down here but no one that's really brick and mortar. It's all happening through farmers' markets, things like that. The existing stores that are down here aren't really adjusting to try to provide something like that, you know? So we felt like it was a great time to make the jump and start to see what people really wanted down here.
Since we've been open for two weeks we've seen a lot of interest, a lot of excited people interested in actually knowing where things are coming from. Trying to be 100% transparent as a business can be a little bit tough. There's a lot of work that goes in behind it, just in sourcing and having relationships with people. Having great support from all of our farmers is what really helps us do what we do. I can do what I do anywhere but I have to have farmers and people like that that are willing to help support and provide a product.
It's a whole network that's required, right?
Yeah, so fortunately, over the past few months that we've been doing the build-out, I've been working with a lot of my farmers, trying to figure out the logistics of asking them to drive an extra hour and a half round-trip, because everyone used to go to Portland and that was about it. But I've had a lot of willingness to drive all the way down to Kittery, from fostering relationships through the years from my time at Rosemont, which definitely helped get us to the point where we are now. It's been really good. We've had a lot of great meat coming through the doors, offering us great product to put out there for our customers. There's a noticeable difference between what we do and what you see at a regular shop. It's fun to see people get excited about it, and already seeing return faces, and people that are just like, "Wow, I haven't had pork chops like that in years!"
Yeah, the fact that something as simple as a roast chicken will blow somebody's mind. It's cool to see people being wow-ed by something that's almost really simple.
Whole animal butchery requires whole animal eating - have you seen people eager and willing to eat whatever you're putting out, or do you have to guide them to unusual cuts? The life of a true butcher who is breaking down whole sides, there's always an educational portion to it. Not everyone understands, you get people coming through, they're like, "Can I get four pounds of hangar steak?" You're like, "Yeah, I'll start saving hangar steaks and I'll have it for you in like three weeks!" Because people don't understand that you get a pound and a half of hangar off a whole 800 pound cow. There's a constant educational portion to what we do.
That being said, there's definitely a lot of eagerness on the part of the consumer to learn, to try different cuts, and it's fun to see, like, showing people some secret off cuts from the shoulder. Take a cow, for instance. We're pulling off Korean-style cross-cut beef short ribs, we're doing a really cool cut from the shoulder called a Ranch Steak, and once you tell people about it, you get them to take a steak home and try it, and they come back and they continue to explore other cuts because they're so happy with what they got in the past. So you're building the confidence of the consumer as far as trying new things and enjoying them, and then it helps them branch out a little bit more as they become more comfortable with stuff.
As far as education, it's constantly trying to talk about new things, and you want people to try new things, and that's what makes it fun, that customer interaction, and taking someone that always wants to buy a bone-in rib eye or a filet mignon and trying to show them things that are beyond that. In all honesty, rib eyes and tenderloins are great, but there are so many other awesome cuts that you normally wouldn't try unless you were shopping at an actual butcher. To sell somebody a dry-aged tri-tip, and they come in the next time and their face is beaming with happiness, and they want to try something else...that's what helps keep us going, as butchers.
It's long, hard, grueling work that we do, to do all the different sausages, to be breaking down sides of beef, to be trying to manage product, and you've got to get creative with things. With all the work we put into it, it's nice to see people get excited about it and come back and constantly try to support you. It makes it all worthwhile. The 100+ hours of work per week that we're pushing right now, I think if we weren't having people so excited about it we'd be a little bit defeated [laughs].
· Jarrod Spangler of MEat, Interview Part Two and Part Three [-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-]