Edmonton is seeing a bit of a boom in butcher shops, capturing a growing desire among consumers for local, high-quality meat, say both a newcomer to the local scene and a veteran.
"COVID happened and my business went berserk," Ribeye Butcher Shop co-owner Sam Gundy told Taproot. Gundy ran a number of butchery businesses in the Toronto area between 2009 and 2021 before he "did pretty well" selling them to VG Meats.
Last year, Gundy moved to Edmonton to open the first Ribeye Butcher Shop with partners Mike Wheeler and Roger Newton, owners of The Canadian Brewhouse, a national restaurant chain that is headquartered here. "They know how to scale, and I know how to operate," Gundy said.
Originally tapped as a consultant for Wheeler and Newton's idea to expand into the butchery market, Gundy quickly decided to become a co-owner of the venture and took over operations. Ribeye is a butcher, market, and eatery concept that has already opened two shops in St. Albert and Manning Town Centre, with plans to open three more soon.
"The proliferation of butcher shops is because of the service, and the quality as well," said Gundy. "And it's the familiarity. It's going and having pretty close relationships because when you're the local butcher, you're going to get to know a lot about everybody in the neighbourhood."
Ribeye isn't the only new game in town when it comes to butcher shops. Modest Meats, a whole-animal butcher shop, opened in Strathcona Junction this month, while Arpa Farm Fresh Butchery (which shares ownership with Sofra Turkish Cuisine and Zula Kitchen and Wine Bar) opened at the end of 2022 in Glenora.
Corey Meyer, a third-generation butcher who bought Ritchie's Acme Meat Market in 2008, agreed that the kind of customer service one receives at a butcher shop is key to its popularity.
It's also important to use high-quality, local suppliers, Meyer added.
"Where you source your meat from is huge," he said. "A big thing that we stand behind is the local aspect of our product."
Meyer and Gundy both noted that some consumers are eating meat less often, or at least in smaller quantities per meal, and thus they are willing to spend more on meat that is better and local.
"Like it or not, meat is the most expensive part of any grocery bill," Meyer said. "So (people are saying) 'If we're gonna spend that kind of money, we'd rather support a local business.'"
Trends among food workers also explain part of the reason for the resurgence of butcher shops, Meyer suggested. "It goes in waves, but it seems like lately butchery has been the cool thing," he said.
Most of the butchers working at Ribeye's growing empire are graduates of NAIT's professional meat cutting and merchandising program. Gundy said he's been in touch with the head of the program to discuss hosting students for work practicums, too.
Coming up, the next Ribeye is scheduled to open in Terra Losa on April 9, and a Windermere location is to follow suit during the third week in May. Lease negotiations are also underway for a fifth location somewhere on Edmonton's east side.