So You Want My Job: Butcher

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 18, 2012 · 29 comments

in So You Want My Job

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

Sure, being a butcher may not seem like a “dream job” on par with being a stuntman or movie director, but as Danny Catullo, owner of Catullo Prime Meats, explains today, the job has become a whole lot hipper and more desirable than it used to be. And not just because it offers all the Turducken you can eat.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

Daniel “Danny” Catullo. I am 29 years old. Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. Graduated with a degree in business communications from The Ohio State University. I am currently back in Youngstown (the meat called me home), running a third-generation family butcher shop. I’m married, with one child, Antonio, and trying for a second (lucky me), and a boxer named Boom Boom after the great Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini from Youngstown. I’ve been working at the shop for 15 years. Started at the age of 14 following my grandfather’s footsteps. I now do it all, from making sausage, to taking orders and waiting on customers, to all the bookwork/finances/headaches on the back end. I run a business with 22 year-round employees, which explodes to 34 during the busy holiday seasons. I’m basically crazy, and loving what I do.

2.  Why did you want to become a butcher? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

When I was younger, my grandfather was my idol, my mentor, and the guy I went to for advice. What he said was the golden rule. After all, there really is no arguing with an Italian guy who’s holding a meat cleaver in his hands. At first, I wanted to be just like him. Then came college, where I thought my life might head in other directions. He passed away while I was finishing school. It was then I knew, after I was graduated, I would need to come home and help my father and uncle run the show.

3. The “So You Want My Job” series is about “desirable” jobs for men. But some men might not think being a butcher falls into that category. What would you say to them?

Maybe they didn’t read the part about talking to an Italian guy with a cleaver in his hands? All joking aside, I think that for a long time this was an undesirable job due to long hours, working in the cold, dealing with customers, and basically working your tail off during the times that others were off (holidays and weekends). The Food Network and other food related shows changed that. I get more requests than ever to show and teach part of my craft. My cooking classes at our Culinary Arts Center are always done at a packed house. I love the fact I’m called on by local TV stations as the expert in my field. We are like celebrity chefs… except we have more facial hair, swear, and never ever take the fat out of our chuck roast.

4. How do you learn to become a butcher? Is it something you can take classes in? Do you apprentice under someone else?

My father and grandfather had the foresight that if I would ever take over their business, I would need to know everything: back to front. I still remember my grandfather writing notes on how to cut down the beef or cut a ham correctly. The meat cutters (two fiery Italians named Jimmy and George) would teach me one way, then my grandfather would yell about how they didn’t know anything and then my father would eventually teach me a third way. Sound confusing? It was as a 17-year-old, too. But my roots have made me into the fine food artisan that I am today! (At least that’s what my mama says). To learn the art of meat cutting, one would have to apprentice under a skilled butcher. They have the knowledge and technical ability to teach about the different cuts of the animals as well as train on the machinery.

5. You’re a butcher who also owns his own shop and online business. Do you handle the business side of things yourself, or do you have someone who takes care of it for you? How important is business savvy to success as an independent butcher?

I took over the store when we were financially struggling; my father and uncle both became disabled within 3 months of each other. Learning how to run a business on the fly was definitely challenging, but I’ve been so lucky to have great mentors along the way. Understanding cost analysis, profit margins, and monthly expenses, for example, have made me a better cutter and has been instrumental to our success. As much as I enjoy cutting, especially on the 14th hour of the day during the week before Christmas (don’t laugh… it’s an amazing high), I look at myself as a business owner first and a butcher second. I also have three store managers who help out on the business end, as well.

6. How does an independent butcher compete with big grocery stores and attract customers?

This is a great question and I think the answer is constantly changing. I’ve seen so many independents retire or lose their business. It is pretty scary out there.

I think the biggest reason why we’ve been able to survive and eventually thrive is that I’ve been so picky about quality and service. My product is “good, fresh meat” as my son calls it. Prime, local beef, all-natural free-range chickens, fresh fish — you get the drift. We still get in hanging beef off the rail. It’s harder work, but you can taste the difference. So much better than boxed cryovac beef.

My guys are the best of the best. They wait on you hand and foot when you come into the store, and we still offer to carry our goods to customers’ cars. But isn’t that the way it should be? There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than bad service. I treat my employees like they are waiters. I make them lunch daily to taste what they are selling.

You have to separate yourself from the pack and our customers have come to taste the difference!

7. What is the best part of your job?

Having someone come back and tell me that I made their holiday meal. It’s the most stressful time of the year; I work so much my wife could bring home another man and I wouldn’t know (hopefully Antonio would give him “the look” with his plastic cleaver), so, nothing replaces that feeling of “we did it again.”

8. What is the worst part of your job?

Having to tell customers no. Firing employees is not something I like to do either, but I’m getting better at it. I have some simple rules, but mess with me and I’ll fire my brother (twice–just ask Angelo).

9. What is the work/family/life balance like for you?

What’s balance? I’m the boss of multiple family members; including my aunt, three brothers at various points, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and cousins. So I can get my fill of extended family fast.

The hardest part is being away from my wife and son. I keep telling myself that the hours will lessen and it will be easier to make money. But then a compressor breaks or Thanksgiving is around the corner and I find myself writing emails and balancing the books until 9pm at work. I guess I call it a work in progress…but when I hear my son cry this year on the phone…it may be a bit of a failure.

10. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That we make as much profit margin as cooked food. It’s not even close. And we don’t have our customers paying for our waiters and bartenders through tips. It’s a crazy cow-eat-cow world in the fresh food world. You have to stay on top of things.

If not that, then it’s not understanding how much goes into making products. To make sausage, for example. You need to take out the Boston butt (aka shoulder) and bone it out. Grind it. Mix it with seasonings you measured. Stuff the machine. Clean out the casings. Stuff the casings and then sometimes even smoke it. Did I mention cleaning the machines?

11. Any other advice, tips, commentary, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

Advice: Always use a sharp knife. It’s easy to cut yourself when working with something dull because you tend to increase pressure and thus slip more.

Tips: Off-cuts may not be as popular as your traditional steaks or chops but can be even more delicious when cooked correctly. Get to know flank steak, chuckeye steaks, pork steaks, and pork shanks.

Commentary: America’s culinary habits are funny. After years of people laughing off short ribs, beef brisket, pork shoulders. and the like, we have seen a tremendous increase in old fashioned (like my grandparents) cooking. Dust off those old cookbooks and create a meal that you can share with your family. No cell phones.

Anecdote: Last Thanksgiving, I thought I was prepared for the massive amounts of turkeys we needed to brine (soak in our solution of water, brown sugar, apples, and spices). Out of the 1300 turkeys, we brined 10 in 2009 and 100 in 2010, so I thought 200 would be sufficient to more than cover the orders and still have extra for “off the street.” At 10pm on the Tuesday before, as I did my count, we were 60 turkeys short. I had been there since 6am, but I needed to make sure every order got filled. So I locked the door, blasted some Adele, and got to work. When I got home at 1am, I was pretty certain I would be fine with never seeing a turkey again.

Other: Please be a S.L.O.B. — Support Locally Owned Business

 

 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eduardo Peraza October 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I love this article. Several years ago I worked at a butcher block at a large supermarket. Although I was only a meat clerk, I learned a lot. It was their that I learned all my cuts of meat, how to cut and much more. I gained such an appreciation for the work of a butcher. The quality products you can purchase at family butcher shops are unmatched. Be S.L.O.B.

2 Philip October 19, 2012 at 2:58 am

I’ve been a butcher’s apprentice for little under 6 months now and I really hope to own a business one day. I’ve been hoping for an article on this for a while and it definitely makes me sure that I’m doing what I want to, despite the hours.

3 Jon Homrighausen October 19, 2012 at 6:56 am

Crazy to see Youngstown represented at AoM! I’ll definitely be taking a trip to Catullo in the near future. Two miles from my house and I never gave it a second thought.

4 Darren October 19, 2012 at 7:55 am

I loved this post…thanks for sharing your life and work with us. And I love the SLOB comment. Support Locally Owned Businesses!

5 Anthony October 19, 2012 at 7:59 am

Dude….
I was a butcher for 16 years. I had to change careers after a pretty bad hand injury. But this article is so right.
I NEVER WANT TO SEE A TURKEY AGAIN!!!!!!
Great post.

6 Jason October 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

My favorite of the series so far. Well done, and as Peyton Manning would say “Cut that meat! Cut that meat!”

7 dannyb278 October 19, 2012 at 9:58 am

Fantastic artical. I often think that i being a butcher would have been a good choice for me as a skilled proffession. Like the italians, us folks of german decent have a long afinity with butcher shops and i have fond memories of going to a local WW2 era shop near my home in Minnesota. I think it is the “smell” of th seasoned meats that brings back those memories

Congratulations on having a truly Manly Job,

8 dannyb October 19, 2012 at 10:00 am

never thought i would hear a butcher say “blasted some Adelle” let alone a Italian. :)

9 R J Vincent October 19, 2012 at 11:11 am

I remember going to an old fashioned butcher shop/deli when I was a kid. I would stand and watch Joe, one of the sons, debone a chicken breast about as fast as you could say it. I learned a lot just by watching him. Not least of which was how to use a honing steel to keep a knife sharp. There’s a great butcher shop near me that has some great stuff and they’ve expanded to include a sandwich shop and ice cream shop. Their meats, fish and other fresh items are top notch and they make their own ground beef in-store, so you know it hasn’t been made in some factory somewhere. They also have a great deli case and some great heat and eat items.

10 R J Vincent October 19, 2012 at 11:22 am

I remember going to an old fashioned butcher shop/deli when I was a kid. I learned a lot just by watching Joe, one of the sons, as he worked. I now know how to debone a chicken breast, butterfly a chicken breast and how to properly use a honing steel to keep my knife sharp, among other things. We have a great butcher shop near me that has great meat, chicken, fish and other items, along with cooked foods and items in the case you can take home and heat up. They recently opened a lunch area and an ice cream shop, all next to each other in the strip mall. They’re very nice people and will help you in any way to make sure you find exactly what they want. They also do special orders for the holidays. Great place.

11 Owen October 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

Great interview. It’s no wonder he’s doing so well with that commitment to customer service. One question I would have loved to hear discussed. We always thought that butchers seem incredibly basically happy with their work and we theorized that this is about as close as you can get nowadays to being the hunter – the primeval provider of food to your family (and community). Would have loved to hear him talk about that.

12 JG October 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

I agree:

SUPPORT LOCALLY OWNED BUSINESSES

Properly butchering an animal is a dying art. The “Henry Ford (dis)assembly line”, where a person is responsible of making one cut and passing the carcass down the line, is killing the art.

13 Nicholas Ward October 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Excellent post. I used to work at a mom and pop sausage factory in New Orleans, so I know a bit of the headache Daniel is talking about. It’s definitely not a job for everybody, but its nice to know there are some men who enjoy doing this work to provide the carnivores with our daily supply of fresh meat. And God bless the man who promotes organic naturally raised meat over the hormone filled garbage being sold all over the country.

14 Benjamin October 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Love seeing Youngstown get some good press. Love that shop, great products

15 Bill Shields October 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Great, great article. As a small business man myself, I appreciate being a SLOB

16 Dan October 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm

He’s in Youngstown, OH? I live right outside of Youngstown, so I definitely will be checking this place out.

17 Grant October 20, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I am so happy Butcher has made it in the series!

Im 25 and even though Im a cook in the army now, I have been in and around butcher shops working since 14.Started by apprenticing at a family run shop later I went to an agricultural college and did a 6 month course for meat cutter certification. The course covered the slaughter, to the butcher block and customer service aswell as smokehouse products. The shop I worked at did it all, from custom cutting the whole carcass for farmers and hunters, to making fresh beef jerky, sausage making, fresh grinds,to all the cuts under the sun, aswell as deli meats and fresh home made warm and eat products like toutiere(french meat pies) and lasagna and shepards pies. I miss those French Canadians, they had the same in house lunch for the employees and treat you like family. Aswell as bring the bags to the car even if its minus 40 outside customer service attitude! They would go out of their way to make whatever the customer wanted, and its something thats lost in one stop shop centers these days.

When I was 14 I thought there was nothing more manley then butchery of an animal, its the closest thing to the hunter/gather/provider you can really get and still make a buck. Its a dying art and I still think its one bad ass manely job! I now mainly cut for hunters and farmers aswell as part time at local shops in places the army posts me too. Also being a cook that can masterfully cut his own meats makes you a very sought after person.

18 Jeremy October 21, 2012 at 1:43 am

As a semi-observant Jew, we have our own standards for butchery (a butcher is a shohet, and was once one of the holiest men in the village because he was the only one who had life in his hands). There aren’t so many individual shohets left in the world; regardless of practice or cut, butchery was a dying breed (but is resurfacing!). It was awesome to see this article, and I feel that it speaks to so many of us, from all backgrounds. Thanks for sharing!

19 Terry October 21, 2012 at 9:26 am

This is a great example of a twenty-something Ohioan. Bad example: that tool from The Ultimate Figther, Julian Lane.

20 jeff_williams October 22, 2012 at 9:15 am

My family has been using the same local shop since before I was born (I’m 32 now). All local animals and owner operated. I can’t believe that people buy “bacon” in the grocery store. Compare it to a local shop’s product and you’ll never buy from the chain grocer again. I’m proud to be a SLOB.

21 joe October 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I’ve been guilty of being a supermarket buyer, but am getting better at supporting local businesses. Theres a few old butcher shops hanging on and some new ones opening up, worth the extra money. Watching the guy make the sausage in front of you and then wrap it and hand it to you is great. Its nice being able to talk to the guy about cuts of meat and other technical things that I wish I new more about. Great to see this profession bouncing back.

22 Steve October 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Awesome to see this article. I dream of being a meat cutter, so the title “So you want my job” is apropos for me. As a big game hunter, I have hired several different butchers in the area to cut up my harvest in the garage. I was amazed at the speed, knowledge and skill and tried to pay attention. After a couple of successful years, I got the courage to try to cut myself. I do OK, but the speed and expertise is necessarily lacking. Butchers are artists. And do they work hard! Shop bacon so outmatches supermarket bacon that like jeff williams, I find it hard to call that stuff bacon. Kudos to Danny!

23 Harris October 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Great article. And I’m all for supporting local businesses. But as a rancher, I must point a major misconception in Nicholas’ comment. It is illegal to sell meat with hormones in it. Yes, you read that correctly. No meat you buy, no matter whether it came from a small shop or a large grocery chain, is permitted to have hormones in it by the time it is sold, per FDA rules. Support your local businesses, but also support food literacy, not talking points!

24 Daniel October 24, 2012 at 6:32 am

This was a great article. I love this site as it got me in touch with skills I have forgotten or was never taught. Such as sharpening a knife (believe it or not) I’ve gone to barbershops I haven’t been to since I was 8 and now will probably go meet my local butcher too. This article really brought an appreciation back to a trade that I thought gone due to big store and mega chains. Thank you AOM and everyone one contributes.

25 rob October 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I’ve worked with animals and vets all my life. There’s no way anyone can tell me that the meat doesn’t contain the principal elements/chemicals found in the hormones they have been treated with.

In addition, it’s not just the hormones that get ‘broken-down’ and added into the mix but all the antibiotics also.

Just because a cow is put in a pen until it’s piss registers ‘clean’ doesn’t mean the by-products of the hormones aren’t still present.

Food literacy indeed.

26 Eugene November 3, 2012 at 10:02 am

Great post!

As a home cook, I have to agree with keeping those knives sharp. It really makes a difference and it makes the slicing of meat more enjoyable. There is that weird high that I get when my sharp knife slices through the meat smoothly.

27 Joe November 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I have spent the last five years working in a butcher shop. I spent the 15 before that working as a professional chef and kitchen manager. I can tell you that the margins in retail meat are way, way higher than in cooked food. Yes, you have customers paying your bartenders and servers, but you also have three times as many employees per customer to pay. Your losses from spoilage are much higher in cooked food. You also have much higher losses from product yields in cooked foods. Look at the steaks in your local butcher shop. They leave as much fat and gristle on there as possible to get every cent out of their customers. You can’t do that with a steak you cut in a restaurant, the customer is going to eat it there and tell you just how it tasted. I can’t believe that Danny would have the gall to say that there are lower margins in retail meats. Your local butcher is probably charging you 40% more than what they pay for each steak. Your local restaurant is charging you at best 20%. Also, all meat contains hormones. Every living creature contains hormones. The USDA (not the FDA) does not allow ‘added hormones’ in almost every meat except for beef. Beef that has been treated with growth hormones is very common and perfectly legal to sell.

28 Jack November 7, 2012 at 9:31 am

Outstanding article. I remember well, as a child, going to the butcher shop with my father. My uncle would have a calf to slaughter and we would buy half. That’s the place I where I learned where the food on my table came from.
I miss the uniqueness of the meat market.

29 Bob March 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I am a Butcher for Food 4 Less Its full time 6am-1:30 and I love it. It is a very manly job very Americana and I love that I’m home everyday with my family

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