The head butcher at Grandview's popular shop shares his go-to cut for the grill and how the shop is faring amid the pandemic.

When you walk into Grandview’s The Butcher & Grocer, there’s a full case of Ohio-raised beef, pork and poultry on the right. Straight ahead, through an opening in the back wall, you can watch the shop’s butchers busy at work. You can even talk to them, with transparency being one of the shop’s guiding principles. Through that window, you’ll often find Dustin Butler, the shop’s bearded general manager, head butcher and equity partner. 

Butler grew up raising animals in Barnesville, Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. His first experience with whole-animal butchery was on the farm watching his grandfather process hogs and helping where he could. Butler got his first job in the trade with Bluescreek Farm Meats, where he worked as a cashier and meat wrapper in the North Market until it was his turn to start breaking down animals. The Hungarian Village resident was hired by The Butcher & Grocer’s owner, Tony Tanner, when the shop opened in July 2016. 

In this e-mail interview, Butler talks about his trade and how the neighborhood butcher shop has fared through the coronavirus pandemic.

What sparked your interest in the job at The Butcher & Grocer?

The Butcher & Grocer was the type of shop I was looking for from the very beginning. I wanted to be part of a business that favored honesty, transparency and integrity over making a quick buck. Also, as a former farm child myself, it is very important to me that the business I represent is firm in its dedication to small Ohio farmers.

How has the coronavirus outbreak changed the butcher shop?

Like everyone else, we've instituted social distancing for both shoppers and staff, truncated our hours and generally had to rethink our entire routine to make it a good experience for everyone involved. We miss being able to spend a lot of time with our customers and staff, but safety trumps all. Frankly, the past few months have been bittersweet for me personally. Sales have been great and customers have been very supportive. You really can't hope for much more than that. On the other hand, I really miss our [wholesale] restaurant partners. My heart goes out to them for the undeniable turmoil they must have dealt with over the past few months and may deal with for some time to come.

Supply chain disruptions because of COVID-19 have led to meat shortages at grocery stores, barbecue spots and even fast food chains like Wendy’s. Has the butcher shop experienced shortages?

We have not experienced any shortages per se. On the contrary, we are actually bringing in quite a bit more than we ever do. Our unique model of only working with local farmers and slaughterhouses has made that possible. The only issue we have run into is not having nearly enough space to hold and process for the demand. We could easily have tenfold the amount of meat in our coolers if we had room for it.

Can you give us a sense of what Ohio farmers are experiencing right now? 

I can only speak for the farmers we work with. They are doing great right now. Demand is up, supply is low, and it's their long overdue time to shine. The small guys in this state really need to get all the credit they are due for how they've helped the food system during this crisis.

Looking long term, what impact do you think this pandemic will have on our agricultural system? 

I can tell you what I hope happens. It's long been very shortsighted to have the great majority of our agricultural output in the hands of a few major corporations. Not only has this pandemic made it very obvious our current food system is unreliable; the ways in which our food is produced has proven to be very unsafe for countless plant workers across the country. It's my hope that these cracks in the foundation help people to see that a small, localized food system can not only provide for the country in times of crisis, but also weather the changes much faster. On top of that, our purchases go directly to small farms and businesses and make a more robust local economy. We need to give the small players a chance again. For generations they kept us full at the dinner table, and unfortunately the last generation of small farmers have oftentimes had to forgo their dinner to keep the farm.

Butchery is obviously a very physical job. Does it take a toll on the body? Are there aches and pains that butchers get (e.g. is there butcher’s elbow) more so than others?

Short of listing all of my aches this week, I can give that question a very emphatic YES. Honestly, it can take a toll on your body and that toll varies wildly depending on the person. Some common issues include hand and wrist numbness, slipped discs in your back and general foot problems from the flooring. Stretching, knowing how to lift and taking care of your general health can mitigate most issues.

It's grilling season. What's your go-to cut of beef to throw on the grill and what are you pairing it with?

My go to steak is the bavette. It's like the child of a skirt and flank but more flavorful and tender. I'm pairing it with grilled corn (when it's in season) and some fresh cucumbers and tomatoes with a touch of salt. I'll likely have a Jackie O’s Mystic Mama IPA right by my side.

Information is critical. Read our latest reporting on the coronavirus response here.