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Sustainable meat pioneer Belcampo opening at GCM in March

Belcampo Meat Co., one the most ambitious sustainable meat companies in the United States, will be opening its first Los Angeles store at the Grand Central Market the week of March 18.

The company, which opened its first store in Larkspur in Marin County in 2012, is also opening this year in Santa Monica, near Wilshire Boulevard and 11th Street. New stores also are slated to open this year in Santa Barbara, Palo Alto and San Francisco.

What makes Belcampo unusual is that it is completely vertically integrated – selling only meat that it raises on its own 12,000-acre ranch and slaughters and processes at its own 10,000-square-foot facility, which was designed by “meat whisperer” Temple Grandin.

“This is the only way we can be absolutely sure about the quality of everything we sell,” says Belcampo founder and chief executive Anya Fernald.

At Grand Central Market, in addition to a butcher shop, which will sell grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, poultry, goat and rabbit, there will be a lunch counter serving mostly soups and sandwiches (but beef tallow fries as well!), made with their meat – often making use of cuts for which there is a limited market at retail. Main courses will run from $11 to $13, while smaller sandwiches and sides will be $4 to $6.

Charcuterie is also planned, with Massimo Spigaroli from Antica Corte Pallavicina in Emilia-Romagna advising.

The market will be located in the space formerly occupied by longtime butcher Economy Meats, famous to market-goers for its displays of goat and pig heads. The opening was first announced in August with a hoped-for date of November, but that was pushed back by construction delays.

“This whole business is about making a farm that can do all the right things and still make money,” Fernald said then. “There’s not a lot of people who have done it before so there’s no template. We’re figuring out how to do it as we go along.”

Indeed, it’s partly the challenge of breaking new ground that drew her to the project in the first place. “The great thing about meat is that nobody’s figured it out,” she says. “And there’s so much potential business. People are interested in the product, but there isn’t a pre-existing big business solution available that everybody is already running to.

“It’s so complicated, so expensive, and it takes a long time. That gives us a window of opportunity to build a model that will offer a really high-quality product to the consumer.”

The other thing that drew her to the project is meat. Fernald, a tall, slim 39-year-old, is a passionate meat geek who becomes so excited talking about the ins and outs of beef genetics that she practically levitates.

Funny that for most of her teen years she was a vegetarian. But working making agricultural micro-investments for Slow Food International in Bra, Italy, she found herself eating pounds of meat a day – usually the raw carne cruda for which the Piedmont is so famous.

When she returned to the United States, she had a meat habit, but no source she felt she could trust. She started a beef CSA in Berkeley, which led to starting the California Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign, which led to founding the Bay Area’s Eat Real Festival in 2009.

That attracted the attention of investor Todd Robinson, who backed Belcampo.

“We’ve been planning this ramping up since we started in 2011, so we’re definitely ready,” says Fernald. In fact, she says, more growth is planned. Right now they’re buying and breeding the animals that will feed the eight stores they hope to have by 2018.

Grand Central Market, 317 Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 624-2378.

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