The Customer is Always Prime at LA's Newest Meet Market
Story by Rachel Tobias
When you walk into the newly surfaced Los Angeles butcher shop Lindy & Grundy, you’re likely on a mission for a little brown paper package of, if you so choose, pork tenderloin and perhaps a sausage or two for tomorrow’s breakfast. What you ultimately get, however, is a much more human experience, one which eclipses that brown paper package tied up with string. It’s a feeling like that shy flutter in your heart and the smile that creeps onto your face when your barista knows your name and your order the moment you walk through the door. It’s the excitement of knowing that products are made and served especially to fit your particular needs, like when the bakery makes black and white cookies every Friday because they know that’s when you will stop by for a dozen. It’s the relationship that grows from an uncertain handshake to a rich and meaningful friendship defined by this idea of mutually beneficial support that creates value within a community and leaves it better off than it was when that coffee shop was just an empty lot.
More than anything else, Lindy & Grundy co-owners Amelia and Erika understand what it takes to create not just a demand for a product, but also how to create a community around that experience. They work within a space of innovation that is defined not by digital devices and futuristic technology, but by preserving lost traditions and engaging customers face-to-face. Social networking is done on the floor, behind the counter. Product re-innovation happens around a method seemingly lost and forgotten to modern-day butchery: using the entire carcass rather than shipping in factory farmed boxes of meat.
Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura met in New York City, and quickly developed a shared passion for food, especially meat. Erika has an extensive background in cooking and foodservice, with a resume that includes stints in Tokyo, New York, and LA. Amelia, on the other hand, always had a passion for activism along with a vegetarian diet. It wasn’t until she met and fell in love with Erika that she began her carnivorous lifestyle, starting, of course, with bacon (the gateway meat, as she calls it). Together, the two took an apprenticeship at Fleisher’s Meats, where they discovered their shared calling for what would become Lindy & Grundy.
This glorious new Mom & Pop shop (or Mom & Mom, as Amelia and Erika are happily married) has set a very special example for small business in both the way they interact with their customers and their products. After spending an evening with them and hearing their story, these important lessons clearly stood out.
Know Your Product
When Amelia and Erika began preparations to open their shop, they did extensive market research and called every shop they could find that sold meat in California. They found that with the exception of two shops in Northern California, every butcher exclusively stocked boxed meat from factory farms. It was, therefore, a priority to fill that gap in Los Angeles, while also serving as a reliable source of information about how meat is processed and why we, as the consumer, should care.
Activists as well as skilled butchers, the two young women hope to educate Angelenos about responsible consumption. “This country consumes far too much meat and they do it so irresponsibly,” Amelia says with a twinge of anger. “Most people don’t think about where their meat is coming from, nor do they care.” Factor in that Lindy & Grundy is supplied by very small ranchers up and down the California coast, who provide meat exclusively for the shop, and “there’s no way that we’re going to supply Los Angeles with the demand they want,” Amelia explains. It makes sense, then, for Lindy & Grundy to gently steer people away from the boneless skinless chicken breast and pork tenderloin, instead encouraging them to try new cuts and use new parts of the animal. Nothing goes to waste: even the bones are roasted and used for stocks.
Lindy & Grundy buys the whole animal directly from the rancher, who brings it to a slaughterhouse approved by Amelia and Erika, who then brings it to the Fairfax storefront where Amelia and Erika, both certified CFDA meat inspectors, make sure the animal is up to par. The girls are die-hard advocates of whole animal utilization, also known as eating nose to tail.“We’re trying to move people away from consuming so much meat and start consuming more consciously.” If you’re looking for 15 pounds of spare ribs or 100 pounds of brisket, you’re better off at Whole Foods.
Engage Your Community
While a specialty organic butcher shop might easily blend into a ritzier part of Los Angeles, Amelia and Erika chose their West Hollywood block (just north of the corner of Fairfax and Melrose) for a reason. “I don’t want to specifically cater to a certain demographic,” says Amelia. “I want to be accessible to people from all walks of life.” As she points out, their location is easily 20 minutes away from nearly everywhere; it’s a spot where most Angelenos must pass through at some point in their day or week. “Whether you’re a Beverly Hills housewife or a tattooed dyke in East LA, this is an area where you can feel comfortable being yourself. It was important to me that all our customers could feel equally comfortable walking in through these doors and in this area.”
They also want to make sure their products are accessible. “We give people a recipe for everything they buy. We tenderize all of the working muscles for you and tell you exactly how to go home and cook it. People are free to give me a call and I’ll walk them through it if they need me to. We want them to love the meat that our farmers raise.”
As you walk in the door to Lindy & Grundy, you immediately see the Community Recipe Board, an idea Amelia had to incentivize customers to share their recipes with others. Each month, Amelia chooses her favorite recipe and gives a pound of free meat to the winner. Determined to support fellow local small businesses, the store has refrigerators and shelves stocked with jams, jellies, soups, sauces, and a variety of other products made by local entrepreneurs.
Like Your Customer
Within five minutes of the interview, a pair of women walk by the shop. “That’s Rose and Jessica,” she tells me matter-of-factly. She blows kisses to the ladies and tells me that Rose is looking extra great with her new haircut. She’s expecting Chad sometime soon; he comes in 3 times a week for his rack of lamb. Dina and Willy come in every day to get roast chicken for her little baby Wyatt. She continues to describe her customers by name and cut of meat. “I care about knowing who you are, because chances are you’re literally my neighbor. It makes me be able to get through my work day knowing that I’m making human connections, meeting new people, new families.”
The girls take mental note of things: which of their customers is single, which have children, who lives on what block, who likes what cut best. This way, the opportunity to make meaningful connections becomes endless. To cater to her customers that only order steak for one, Amelia plans on launching an event she calls “The Meet Market,” an exclusive, singles-only rooftop gathering catered by the butcher shop and featuring sommeliers, mixologists, among others. “Why not make it steak for two?!” exclaims Amelia.
Old-School is Radical
Without a good knowledge of who your customer is and what their needs are, it is impossible to provide a good product and a clear message. “I want them to know that we work hard to know exactly where all of our meat comes from and that we’re all supporting California agriculture, keeping the money in our community.” Through cultivating individual relationships with each of their customers, Amelia and Erika are able to create a movement around a product and show people why it is important to care about what we put into are bodies. We are, after all, what we eat.
After less than two months in business, Lindy & Grundy sells out nearly every day with the help of their cook Tim, and their apprentices Alex and Hugo. On Easter weekend, only the second weekend they were in business, the shop had more than 200 advance special orders and a line around the corner an hour before their doors opened. These girls have no intention of slowing down. They plan to introduce classes for local residents this summer including BBQ 101, sausage-making, and butchering. “We are radical,” the girls say with a confident smile. “We are going back to the way things used to be. And guess what? Angelenos are ready.”
Rachel Tobias is a writer, blogger, and dreamer living in the Los Angeles area. She currently works at ProFounder.com, spreading the word about community-based crowdfunding for small business. In her spare time, she writes for the TED Blog, buys plane tickets to foreign lands, and makes a delicious pomegranate-basil sangria. She can be found at racheltobias.com.
Photos by Benny Haddad for Sheepless.