I am hoping that after reading this article everyone starts googling the phrase “butcher near me”.
David Budworth, also known as “Dave the Butcher”, is one of those butchers who has changed the way people have looked at buying meat over the last several years.
He runs a modest shop in San Francisco called Marina Meats, where he embraces the farm to table movement and relationships with his customers.
His colorful past and liberal opinions are both hilarious and inspiring.
Here is his story
Dave started his butchering journey in 1989 working at Ashbury Market in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Seeing the older butchers break down whole animals intrigued and inspired him. But as a self-proclaimed “fuck up” he was not yet ready to settle down in a career.
So, off to Australia to live and work in the jungle he went. This is where Dave worked on a farm for tattooed, bearded bikers picking fruit. He said, “I lived in a tent for 6 months and half the time thought these guys were going to kill me”.
But they didn’t. And instead they inspired Dave even more to become a butcher and more knowledgeable about where his food came from.
The bikers raised wild pigs on their property. Dave would help slaughter them with his boss, Weed, to sell the meat off to nearby neighbors. The first time Weed strapped on his belt of knives Dave’s eyes lit up. He thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.
In the evenings Dave and the bikers would head out (highly intoxicated) in a pick up truck to hunt crocodile. He learned that in Australia there are wet and dry seasons. In the wet season it floods and in the dry season when things dry up tiny ponds form where crocodiles get trapped and have to live in until the wet season returns. They would find the crocs in these ponds in the middle of the night, shine a light on them and shoot them, bringing them back to the farm to slaughter.
When Dave’s outback adventure came to an end he moved back to San Francisco and landed a job at The Real Food Company on Sutter street (which is now closed) working the meat counter. By a stroke of good luck the manager was getting ready to quit and in a bind offered his position to Dave. Dave, still not really knowing the art of butchery, saw an opportunity and accepted the position.
In the following months he became Bill Niman’s (formerly of Niman ranch) first butcher shop wholesale customer. Up until then Bill had only sold his grass-fed beef to Chefs at high end restaurants. He also brought on farms like Atkin’s Ranch for lamb. He said that he would order meat from Bill Niman and Atkins Ranch and then ask them how to cut it. The farmers trained Dave on how to cut their own product. And little did Dave know, that at the time, he was at the forefront of a food revolution that would surge several years later.
But in pure Dave fashion he grew antsy. With a pocket full of cash from his manager’s job he took 6 months off and moved to Amsterdam to grow pot.
Upon returning from his sabbatical he found himself living in the east bay where he stumbled into what would eventually become his true butchery training ground, Ver Brugges.
It was at Ver Brugge Foods where Dave learned the true meaning of hard work and what it took to be a real butcher. He worked long hours, never got weekends off, would get constant shit from the older butchers and cut his fingers daily. During the holiday season he remembers cracking crabs until three in the morning only to come home, drink a couple beers and go back to work a couple hours later at 6am.
He was the youngest butcher at the shop by 30 years. He had to fight to get taught what they knew and would often get pushed off on to the customers while the older butchers did the actual butchering in the back.
He would ask the customers if they wanted anything special done to the cuts of meat they were ordering from the case, such as boning out legs of lamb or trussing chickens. As with most of his butchering career Dave’s skills were self taught.
But, what he did learn from the owner of Ver Brugges was how to run a profitable butcher shop. Which became immeasurable later in his career.
A big reason why the owner preferred the more seasoned butchers to break down meat was that he had zero tolerance for waste. He had to. It was all about his bottom line and if Dave cut steaks while still learning and produced a lot of waste it was money taken out of his pocket. It was there that the idea of “clean bones” was instilled in Dave who went on to take pride in butchering meat leaving no waste behind.
Although Ver Brugge was a great shop Dave longed for the days when he got to watch guys break down whole animals which was something that they did not do there.
Dave found a shop in Santa Cruz that was doing just that. He called them every week for months until Shopper’s Corner finally gave in and offered him a job. Dave came in on fire getting quickly promoted to assisting the assistant manager on what he calls the “main block”. The manager would cut meat and Dave would clean up his “trim”. All. Day. Long.
Dave kept up his relentless butcher’s schedule until finally burning out. Making a significant change in lifestyle he moved to Berlin, opened a yoga studio and became a certified coffee roaster.
Although he loved his new life and Berlin Dave had this constant nagging feeling of wanting to be behind a butchers counter. Alas, he found himself back working at Ver Brugges only three years later.
During his second stint working at Ver Brugges he got divorced from his wife, his dog died and his car got broken into and stolen twice. Feeling depressed and defeated he returned to Berlin with his “tail between his legs” to his old barista job.
He was there for 6 months. Life was easy. Too easy he thought.
Dave traveled to Spain where he says he “scared himself” to the point of returning yet again to the bay area.
He ran a shop called The Fish Lady in Santa Cruz where he re-did their meat, cheese and beer programs. He couch surfed and eventually landed back in San Francisco where his career had started.
By this point Chefs had made butchering whole animals trendy and accessible to everyday people. All of the sudden being a butcher was “cool” and farm to table was all the rage. What Dave had been doing for over twenty years and not getting any recognition for was now big business.
Dave the Butcher is born
2009 was an exciting time to be a butcher. The NY Times had just put out an article titled, Young Idols With Cleavers Rule the Stage and butchers now had rockstar status.
Chefs like Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats where becoming known for whole animal butchery and the farm to table movement was in full swing.
Having already had 20 years experience as a butcher, Dave was in a prime position by the time he entered back into the San Francisco scene.
Dave started getting approached left and right to do demos at festivals, “meet your butcher” dinners and butchery competitions. He was getting up to speak at large events about factory farming and supporting small farms. He joined forces with other local butchers to support them and build his brand as, Dave the Butcher.
Dave on labeling
Now that people were taking notice of butchers again and having a desire to know where their meat was coming from more and more meat starting popping up in grocery stores labeled as “organic”, “free-range” and natural. The demand was now there.
So, what is the difference between, what butchers like Dave, are offering and the organic meat you find in a supermarket? Luckily for us one of Dave’s best virtues is that he does not hide his opinions or sugarcoat them.
I asked Dave how he felt about companies who label their meats as “all natural” and this is what he had to say…
“It’s a crock of shit. I think the organic, all-natural, free-range labeling is fucking bullshit. It’s a scam in a sense. They are all buzzwords.
I know farmers who go beyond organic, like Alexis at Soul Food Farm, but can’t afford to label themselves as such because of the cost of licensing. When Alexis was certified organic she had to source feed from Japan. The costs were threatening to put her out of business. Corporate factory farms have the money to pay the organic fees. For them it’s just marketing.
I look for animal welfare certification when I purchase meat because a company can say they have organic chickens but then go out and beat the crap out of them everyday. As long as they feed them organic food they can call them organic. “Free-Range” chickens? They leave the door to the coup open. Most of the chickens don’t walk outside and if they do its on to a four by four fenced in area. The pastured birds that I get for Marina Meats are certified heritage and pastured for 140 days and are what chickens should taste like.”
Dave on grass-fed vs. grain fed beef
I asked Dave if he has seen a shift in what customers are looking for as far as beef goes these days. For many years marbled, grain-fed beef was revered by chefs and consumers for providing juicer and more delicious steaks. These days the promise of a healthier meat option is delivered with grass-fed beef.
Dave said, “There were no grain-fed marbled steaks before WW2. That all started with the industrial corn revolution. It’s what we were all raised on. That too was a marketing ploy.
All cows start out for their first year on grass so you can technically call a factory farmed product grass-fed. After a year it gets auctioned off and goes to a factory to live the rest of its life on cement. It was the industry standard. That was back when everyone trusted the government and the food industry not to poison us.
Five years ago people in their seventies would come in and scoff at the price of grass-fed beef. Now those same people are asking for it. It’s one of those things where if people vote with their dollars shit will change. That’s what is starting to happen now. Grass-fed is the new healthy trendy thing and people want to be told what is healthy for them.
Back in the 70’s we were told fat was evil and everyone started buying diet this and diet that. Now it comes out that all that shit was a big scam, just marketing. With those ideas still engrained in customers brains they ask me for steaks with less fat on them. I tell them the fat is not the problem. In the beef I sell the fat contains a lot of nutrients. It’s the fat from factory farmed meat that you want to stay away from. It is there where all of the chemicals and antibiotics that were given to the cows are stored.
There only used to be choice and prime labels for beef. When a carcass was run through the slaughterhouse the USDA guy looked at one spot on the carcass and if it was marbled he would label it prime. These meats were more rare so they were sold at a more expensive price.
Now there are three choices of beef – select, choice and prime. Select used to be called “no roll” because it meant that it didn’t get rolled with the USDA stamp. It was non-graded meat, below human consumption level, but fine for dogs to eat. Safeway lobbied to have select become a grade. They re-labeled everything in their store as “Safeway Select” and turned it into a brand name that people now trust.”
The Philosophy at Marina Meats
The demographic at Marina Meats can change with the time of the day or day of the week.
Dave gets everyone from Italian grandmothers cooking old school classics like petrale sole and meatballs to busy parents looking for convenient pre-made products like crabs cakes and marinated chicken breast to the guy walking in on the weekend who just bought a green egg and wants to smoke a whole brisket.
Dave’s favorite time to work is the weekend. He cranks up fun music like disco or reggae and shoots the shit with the customers who are more relaxed and in a friendly weekend mood.
He says his philosophy and the philosophy of the shop are one in the same. To source humanely raised, non-factory farmed meat and support small farms.
He buys whole animals from several small farms spreading the love around.
But coming from a background such as working at Ver Brugge he has also learned the importance of making a profit. So because of that he tries to blend what he calls the “old world” with the “new world” butcher shop ideas.
He says, “the new world idea of only buying whole carcasses, supporting only small farms and doing everything in house isn’t completely sustainable from a financial stand point. You have to charge a lot and there isn’t much profit to be made.
So to get around that I combine that model with the “old world” approach which is to still offer cool stuff but to also bring in some pre-cut product at a lower cost.
Many “craft” butcher shops won’t sell things like boneless, skinless chicken breast. I’ll bitch and moan all day about selling it but at the end of the day it’s what many customers want and it makes us money.
Offering that boneless, skinless chicken breast gets people into the shop on a daily basis and allows me to build a relationship with them. I am then able to guide them towards purchasing other off cuts that they might not of ever tried before.
Instead of alienating those people I engage them. I figure if one in every ten people buys a pork belly or a beef shank or some off cut that nobody used to ever buy, sweet!
I may go through a ton of boneless, skinless chicken breast but I’ve also converted many people in the process. And that’s why I am able to afford to buy and butcher whole carcasses. It supports my business.
Instead of being snooty and telling people that they should just get on the “craft butchery” train right now, when they clearly aren’t ready, I just try to make the train more enticing. That’s my theory.”
The choice is yours.
Living in the bay area I have to remind myself all the time that we live in a bubble. Not everyone across America has access to pastured meat or are near a small local farm.
But I know in my heart that if we stop filling the pockets of factory farm corporations it will make an impact on the kinds of foods that grocery stores everywhere sell. Like Dave said, when people “vote with their dollars shit will change”.
So go ahead, close out this blog and google “butcher near me”. You never know, there could be a Dave the Butcher of your very own working right around the corner.
What kind of meat do you want to eat and feed to your family?
David Budworth AKA “Dave the Butcher” started his career in 1989 at the Ashbury Market in San Francisco. With the 2 words on a poultry box “Edible Feet”, he was hooked. He landed in the jungle outback of northern Australia where he worked on a farm for some bikers learning to slaughter and process wild pigs. He has since worked under many local butcher masters, cut meat at Avedano’s Holly Park Market and was the butcher for Fatted Calf’s weekly Pork Happy Hour. Dave is now the manager and head butcher at Marina Meats in San Francisco. You can also catch him teaching lamb butchery classes at the San Francisco Cooking School. Dave is a bartender of a butcher- full of facts, recipes and butcher lore.
Learn more about David Budworth on his website – Ask Your Butcher
Or visit him at –
2395 Chestnut ave. SF
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.