FoodDaily Dish

Grand Central Market snags sustainable meat pioneer Belcampo

Lifestyle and LeisureCookingNew Year's Day

Bay Area butcher Belcampo Meat Co., one of the pioneers in the sustainable meat business, is coming to Los Angeles, the latest big score by the management of the rapidly gentrifying Grand Central Market.

But even though the company is widely admired for its humane practices, it’s unlikely its arrival will pass without protest. Belcampo will replace longtime Grand Central butcher Economy Meats, the carniceria that has been a highlight of so many foodie field trips, even if few people actually bought the whole pig’s heads on display there.

The shop is scheduled to open in early November, though CEO Anya Fernald says that date is still “a moving target.” If the market can’t open before then, she says, it’ll probably have to wait until after the holidays.

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The Grand Central Market project is one of two Southern California ventures for Belcampo, with a third on the drawing board. In addition to the downtown location, the company will be opening a similar project in the Santa Barbara Public Market at roughly the same time. A third Southern California location will be located someplace on the Westside and should open sometime next year, Fernald says.

Currently, Belcampo operates only one store, in Larkspur in Marin County. A second Bay Area market in San Francisco’s Mission District has been discussed but seems to be on hold for the time being.

Belcampo is what is known in industrial terms as completely integrated -- they raise their own animals on their own farms, butcher the meat at their own facilities and sell it at their own markets. They even cook much of it in their own restaurants.

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Everything is done to the utmost in sustainability -- they use the latest in pasture rotation philosophy, the beef is all grass-finished, and humane meat expert Temple Grandin helped design the slaughter facilities.

“This whole business is about making a farm that can do all the right things and still make money,” Fernald says. “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.

“Because of the number of animals we raise, we have to open a few stores; we have to have a certain scale at which things become economically viable. We can’t do that with one store; but we want to be a neighborhood butcher shop wherever we are.”

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At the Grand Central Market store, Fernald plans to sell the full line of Belcampo products -- beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, duck, goose, squab and other types of poultry, all of them raised on the company’s 10,000-acre farm in Northern California and processed at its new 20,000-square-foot USDA-certified slaughterhouse in Yreka.

Fernald acknowledges that her prices will be somewhat higher than what is currently offered at Economy Meats, but says the product mix will be much the same -- in fact, that was part of the appeal for her.

“Our products are going to be more expensive because doing things in a more holistic way is more expensive,” she says. “But the nice thing about [Grand Central Market] is that it already has shoppers who are buying offal and off-cuts of meat that we need to sell. They won’t be at comparable prices, necessarily, but not too darned far away.”

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While it may be easy to sell grass-finished steaks in Marin County, some of those other cuts can be a tougher prospect. And to sell those you have to have a clientele that knows how they should be prepared and will appreciate them.

"I like being in a market that has more of an appreciation of fourth-quarter meats,” she says. “This will not be just your typical high-income neighborhood mix.”

In addition to raw ingredients, the store will sell prepared dishes made from Belcampo’s meat. There will be a hamburger, of course, and hot deli sandwiches. There will be what they call “Belcampo Buns”: small sandwiches made with things like Peking duck and lamb shawarma. And there will be bowls of soup and pasta, including menudo and a special beef-and-bone soup.

“From the first time I walked into the Grand Central Market, I just loved the feel of it,” Fernald says. “It’s an institution and it’s so beautiful and it does such a great job of serving a really diverse community. I like the idea that it’s seen so many faces over so many years.

“This is a long-term play for us. We want Belcampo to be around in 50 years or 100 years. And to be in a place that already has that kind of legacy will be beautiful.”

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

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