As a small boy I used to tag along with my grandparents on visits to the neighborhood butcher shop. I can still can recall walking through the door to the sight of the front floor covered with fresh sawdust. The sawdust was strewn about to soak up the juices that dripped from the meat when sides of beef were hauled through the front door. My eyes as big as saucers, I witnessed that scene a couple of times.
While you can't plug into that high drama at the Meat House in Chadds Ford, what you will discover is a modern version of the old neighborhood butcher, and much more.
"It is an old idea that’s new again," says proprietor Scott Gagnon. "We wanted to recreate the strong sense of community that the neighborhood butcher shops used to provide. Getting to know our customers. We have great products, but we back it up with good people. Our goal is to provide an incredible food experience.”
The store opened on Route 202 (across from the Wawa) on February 28 bringing "fine dining hospitality" to the retail business. Doors are opened for every customer, bags are carried out and each supervisor can offer suggestions on food pairings and cooking times as well as advice for anything in the store. Shoppers are greeted, given a tour if it’s their first visit, and are offered samples. The Meat House has hired an executive team with culinary training and years of experience in the service industry. Seven of their 22 employees are chefs.
Founded in Portsmouth, N. H. in 2003, the Meat House has franchises all across the country. Chadds Ford is #30. A trip down its well-stocked aisles brings to mind a local version of a Whole Foods Market. The store's 5,000 square feet space and rolling display shelves are meant to be switched around with the seasons. The store also pays homage to butchers and farmers of yesteryear. Vintage butcher and farmer photos line the walls. Displays include a butcher’s block from 1945 and a meat scale from 1918.
It's actually a family business. The elder Gagnon is the CEO. Out of college he worked in a butcher shop for a number of years prior to becoming a longtime executive with Triple AAA and Scott's sister also lends a hand. Assistant manager Scott Thomas says he's almost family. The day I turned up Scott's mother and grandmother were navigating the floor chatting up new customers.
The Gagnons have purchased exclusive rights to open Meat Houses in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Another store is possible for the Main Line area by the end of year. The parent company is on the verge of being sold due to mismanagement and crumbling finances.
"I think everyone is looking forward to the new ownership rebuilding the brand and expanding it further," Gagnon notes.
The Meat House provides all the ingredients shoppers need to whip up a gourmet meal or casual get- together for friends and family.
"We always have chefs in the kitchen cooking something," says Gagnon, who lives in Middletown, Del. "So we're able to round out the whole plate. It's also about the hospitality and relationships. We get to know the customer. If you love rib eyes we'll remember that so you'll get great looking rib eyes or one that will be put on special. We build those kind of relationships."
The store's 6o-foot long glass cases are brimming with conventional and grass-fed beef, locally sourced pork, lamb, chicken, veal, bison and house-made sausages, and ground beef, turkey, chicken, veal and pork. Their Philly fishmonger is Samuels & Son, one of the best in the country. Fresh shellfish, whole fish, filet and steaks are delivered daily. You'll also find locally created cheeses and fresh produce, prepared side dishes and Boar’s Head lunch meats.
Shelves carry fresh baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, dips, spices and rubs, olive oils and marinated salads, hearty baked goods, delectable desserts and pastries and glass bottles of luscious milk where the cream floats on the top. Despite the name, The Meat House offers something for meat lovers and vegetarians alike, including gluten-free dishes and a salad/tapas bar with ten varieties of olives, greens, hummus and even fresh falafel and pita.
But it's called the Meat House for a reason. All of the meat comes from Indian Ridge Farm in Telford, Pa. Hand-cut to order, high-quality meats are focused on the top-20 percent cuts of meats, primarily top and prime. If shoppers have a specific question about a cut of meat, their butchers are pleased to speak with you about it.
The best-seller? An array of marinated steak tips, chicken and turkey breasts that are perfect to just pitch on the grill.
“I think what we’re best known for is our steak tips,” beams Gagnon. “It’s a sirloin steak tip. It’s how the company was started, and once people try them, they love them and get them over and over again. We also tout our dry-aged beef, reminiscent of the kind served at the finest steakhouses in the country."
More winners? Sumptuous kabobs-- steak, chicken or jerk lamb. Salmon burgers and the fantastic dry aged cowboy steaks, hand carved by head butcher Anthony.
Want a produce tip? Try the "Obis One Black Garlic." It's aged and fermented organic raw garlic, black in color, sweet and savory in flavor, soft like dried fruit, and no garlic breath! Partner it with sauces, meats, pizzas and veggies. Anm inventive food specialty, Obis One is located at Obisquahassit, N.J.’s oldest working farm, circa 1670.
The store is steadily building relationships (55 and counting) with local food vendors. Here's a couple from West Chester. Jenny and Frank's Artisan Gelato make each micro-batch of gelato from scratch, by hand from the freshest local dairy, eggs, fruit and herbs. Jenny and Frank were owner Tom Cozzolino's Italian grandparents. Shellbark Hollow produces superb artisan cheeses and cheese spreads from their herd of purebred Nubian goats. The freshness, typically less than a week old, is reflected in high-quality, rich, butterfat milk that cheese lovers crave.
Gagnon, Thomas and their team say they can bring in anything-- within reason-- the customer wants within a few days.
"We've had people come in to pre-order goat, some form of octopus other than what we already have ready and a special type of alligator," Gagnon reports. "We've had a couple requests for a full side of beef. If people have a special request, something that’s hard, we'll do out best to find it for them."
We toted home a trio of lunchtime treats-- zesty BBQ pulled pork, an amazing black and blue sirloin burger and those luscious steak tips. With the grilling season in full swing, it's a safe bet the Meat House is already the go-to place.