They’re on Grass
Bill the Butcher’s sustainably raised meats put food fears on the chopping block.
THE DISPLAY COOLER is on the fritz. So Scott Molyneaux, the head meat man at the Redmond branch of Bill the Butcher (billthebutcher.us), has moved the 28-day prime rib and the house-stuffed sausages to a smaller, upright fridge until the main one can be repaired. He eyes the meat tenderly. Ginger-haired and fast-talking, Molyneaux is the former executive chef at the Gray Wolf Ranch in Port Townsend, and he is very passionate about his beef. And his pork. And his chicken. And his goat.
Yes, goat. Each Bill the Butcher location—Laurelhurst, Woodinville, and Redmond, and a fourth planned for Madison Valley —caters to the neighborhood it serves, and Redmond’s Middle Eastern and Indian populations eat a lot of lamb and goat, so Molyneaux stocks them. And if customers want guinea fowl or crocodile, he’ll get them guinea fowl and crocodile. So long as they can be raised sustainably. “Sustainable is attainable if humans are retrainable,” reads one slogan on a board behind the meat counter.
“Slow food sold here quickly,” explains another. These sayings are attributed to Bill—master butcher William Von Schneidau, according to the website—but they sound suspiciously like something CEO and image guru J’Amy Owens would say. Owens also has a consulting company, J’Amy Owens Group, that has revived brands such as Nike, Cinnabon, and Applebees. “We’re riding a megatrend with organic foods,” she said, reclining in a plush chair in her Queen Anne loft. Even during the recession, Owens said, “folks in the Northwest buy green. There’s been a climb in green spending.”
On a sunny morning in March, customers poured into the Redmond shop. A tiny lady wanted to make lamb chops for Easter, big ones. Butcher Ross Arrington explained why a smaller lamb would taste better. In came a balding man in his 30s. “What’s for dinner?” asked Molyneaux. The guy explained he had been in just yesterday, had bought rib eye and loved it. He wanted more meat. Molyneaux told him how to grill marbled tenderloin, $24 a pound, starting with the fat side down. “Nobody else has marbled tenderloin,” said Molyneaux, growing excited. “I need a lot,” replied his customer. He may have been salivating.
It’s the response Owens counted on when she built her first four Seattle-area stores in under a year. Multiple retail outlets were necessary, said Owens, in order to create a supply chain. If she could buy more than one cow at a time the farmers could afford to let them roam and feed themselves a diet of grass, then slaughter them humanely, without their prior knowledge. Because when an animal senses its own death, Owens says, it dumps a bunch of toxins into its meat, and that’s kind of scary. “The world is frightening enough,” she said. “Dinner shouldn’t be.”