After five months of waiting, our custom made meat rail (where our carcasses hang in the cooler) finally made it to our little town in Texas after being fabricated in Italy!
As you can see, it was about 1,000 pieces and the instructions really just consisted of a couple of drawings of what is was supposed to look like when it was all put together. With the way it worked out this week, our cooler was about empty (with more carcasses coming in today), so Tanner thought it would be best to knock it out over this past weekend. About twenty one hours later (with very sore, roughed up hands and back), he got it installed! We are so grateful that all the measurements were correct and everything fits absolutely perfectly! Considering the language barrier and how long it took, we were so nervous about those 1,000 pieces fitting perfectly in our space.
Unless you know what you're looking at, it kinda looks like a bunch of steel connected to the ceiling. Let me go back and explain why it's such a milestone for us, and why we worked with Italy to get something like this.
What it really starts with is the endangerment (or near extinction), of the small butcher or meat shop in America. Over the past 100 years, consumer buying habits shifted from the local butcher and neighborhood specialty stores to the convenience of supermarkets. The grocery industry evolved from neighborhood speciality shops, to chain stores, to massive one-stop supercenters, with the latest innovation being the cashier-less Amazon Go grocery store.
By 1960, seventy percent of groceries sold came from a supermarket.
The meat industry followed course, as consumer demand gradually shifted away from neighborhood butchers. Today, over 95% of the meat we consume in this country comes from just ten
supersized packers (slaughterhouses), compared to the nearly 10,000
that existed in the 1960s. Dismantling of antitrust laws
is one of the factors that lead to the consolidation of the meat industry that we see today, where the "big ones eat up the little ones
" or in this case massive ones eating up the large ones – creating a very tough landscape for the little ones to compete in, ultimately closing their doors – a result of the industry becoming more industrialized, centralized, and commoditized.
What does all that have to do with this piece of steel (rail) hanging in our cooler? And why Italy? Well, in Europe your neighborhood butchers are still around (grocery stores too of course, but many many towns still have neighborhood butchers). While here in America, where "bigger is better," many have slowly disappeared (with a little resurgence after Covid). To take it one step further, grocery store fresh meat counters and even many butcher shops get "boxed beef" shipped in (think Sysco), where small parts of the animals come in (primals – like the strip loin) and are further cut into pieces (like NY Strips). A retail outlet can place an order for 100 striploins, and that's it.
Whereas with us, a whole animal butcher, we bring in the entire animal (great for traceability!). By having this rail to hang our carcasses from, we have the opportunity to bring in the entire carcass, cut into four pieces (quarters), which make it very easy for inventory! We then look at the carcass and decide the best way to break it down, and have the ability to offer many different craft cuts like oyster steaks, ranch steaks, Teras Majors, merlots, etc. As seen in the photo above, we can roll the carcass right out of the cooler into the Meatery cutting area, contributing to greater efficiency and ease when making those first cuts.
It's not innovation like the Amazon Go store, if anything we are shifting into reverse to revisit the way it used to be – embracing butchery as a skilled craft vs. a meat assembly line. Seeing this first round of carcasses on the rail brought this feeling of satisfaction and appreciation for the progress we have made, immense relief that after 6 months in the making it's finally "up and rolling," and excitement for what is yet to come. We feel such gratitude that companies still exist (despite being across the pond), that specialize in 100% custom rail kits for small outfits like us, a couple turning an old vacant gas station (and in this case, a gas station beverage cooler), into a whole animal artisan butcher that is reminiscent of the past, while marrying it with the modern day conveniences that allow us to thrive.
After a long weekend putting the rail up, I may have asked everyone at work on Monday morning to make sure to give Tanner a big round of applause when he walked in! He wasn't sure what all the clapping was for.
October 2022 – My, how far we've come.