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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bill the Butcher Responds, Sort Of

Posted by on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Two weeks ago in The Stranger, Matthew Richter examined the claims of new Pacific Northwest butcher chain Bill the Butcher and found them spurious. Here's some of article:

William Von Schneidau vouches for the quality of Bill the Butcher's meat. According to the signage above Bill the Butcher's meat cases, the beef, pork, lamb, veal, goat, chicken, fish, and game are all "certified organic and natural."

But there's one thing Von Schneidau and Owens won't share, and that's the names of the putatively organic ranches that supply the shops. "But if we get to know [the ranchers] and we actually know them—we actually know them by their first names, we talk to them every day—that's good enough for us," says Owens. "We have the relationships, and that's good enough to have source verification that we trust."

Von Schneidau says that the names of the farms aren't important to his clients: "We don't want to confuse the consumer getting into too many 'this farm, that farm' things." Within the next six months, he says, the Bill the Butcher supply chain will be solidified, and then they'll consider revealing sources to their customers. Meanwhile: "If I did a blind test with you, and we served a top sirloin from five different farms... nobody will notice the difference anyway."

We've seen in comments on the story that the names of the farms are important to Bill the Butcher's (potential) clients. The Stranger hasn't heard from the company in response to the story. However, an "open letter" showed up last week on the Bill the Butcher website, reading in part:

In our marketing, in our signage, on our web site, and in our brochure we have never represented our meat as being “100 percent certified organic.” Instead, we have said “organic and natural, grass fed and local” to best represent our total mix of meaty offerings.

Transparency is of the ultimate importance to us and we are creating a system that allows us to track our meat from the farm to our cases. You will be able to learn not only where our meat comes from and who raises it, but also what the animal ate, how it was harvested and the interesting nuances that nobody has ever attempted to reveal, such as the specific breed/bloodline of the animal. We’ll provide you with information allowing you to pinpoint your ultimate preferences in the quest for your perfect steak...

We will start showcasing our ranchers and farmers, those who agree to be featured, next week. As you may already know our meat and poultry comes from Snohomish County, King County, Anacortes, Lopez Island, Spanaway, Duvall, Arlington and Mt. Vernon in Washington, and from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana...

Our business is just getting started, and we have had some growing pains that are being addressed with an internal training program to ensure accuracy at every level in the shops. But our mission is crystal clear: to bring the butcher shop back to the neighborhood, with clean, environmentally healthy meats brought to you directly from local farmers and ranchers.

It looks like Bill the Butcher has learned something here, going from "We don't want to confuse the consumer getting into too many 'this farm, that farm' things" at the time of Richter's interview to "You will be able to learn not only where our meat comes from and who raises it, but also what the animal ate, how it was harvested and the interesting nuances that nobody has ever attempted to reveal." Sounds great.

We stand by Richter's reporting. When he shopped at both the Woodinville and the Madison Valley branches of Bill the Butcher, everything was being sold as certified organic, according to the very butchers on the other side of the counter. The "internal training program" is a great idea. It would've been an even better one prior to opening four shops in nine months and misrepresenting products to customers.

It's "next week" now, so yesterday, The Stranger visited the Madison Valley branch of Bill the Butcher. Of approximately 58 cuts of meat, only one was labeled as organic, the pork short ribs. Nothing was labeled with the ranch it came from. We bought some prime rib and asked where it was from. The butcher was skillfully evasive, moving on to the next customer without answering the question.

Where's the "showcasing our ranchers and farmers"? Hint: They don't have to "agree to be featured," not unless you're buying meat under conditions of anonymity. And conditions of anonymity with meat—well, that would just be weird.

As for "in our signage... we have never represented our meat as being '100 percent certified organic,'” here's a photo of the sign at the Madison Valley Bill the Butcher taken on May 4, the same signage as at the Laurelhurst and Redmond branches:



Comments (22) RSS

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I'm sitting in Chipotle at Kent Station eating a shredded beef burrito.

Bad synthesizer bands are playing.

The tables are all aluminum and wood.

Mexi-girls man the line and seem agitated and are pushing a lot of carts around the soda machine.

This is my life today.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on May 25, 2010 at 1:52 PM · Report this
i kinda wanna eat there less now, after reading the open letter for some reason.
Posted by crisco on May 25, 2010 at 1:52 PM · Report this
starsandgarters 4
That photo doesn't disprove Bill the Butcher's defense. The sign doesn't say "100%" anywhere. It represents the product as possibly being organic, but not which product. I'd say they covered their asses by not being overly specific.
Posted by starsandgarters on May 25, 2010 at 1:56 PM · Report this
I'd say they shouldnt have brought attention at all to it unless it WAS 100 percent. why bother if its not? i'd rather eat somewhere completely honest upfront and grumpily anti-organic and old school than a place that drops a few key phrases like "sustainable" in order to gain some customers.
Posted by crisco on May 25, 2010 at 2:00 PM · Report this
I think the problem is that they were purposely trying to be vague. I mean you go to QFC and buy beef and the package says organic and you know it is organic. No questions. If I went to a place that had organic as one of their selling points, I wouldn't want to be confused. I would want to know what was organic or not. They should have been honest from day one, especially, if they want to tell you your chicken's whole life story in the future. Seems like a little organic sign would be clear and simple.

I am glad that the stranger called them out. Who else has time to figure it out. But is Bill the Butcher going to be better than random meet at Trader Joes, probably.

When I say that I am Asian, I don't need to put 100% percent before it to prove it. They were trying to get away with something. 100% is just a cop out.
Posted by npeyton on May 25, 2010 at 2:15 PM · Report this
It represents the product as possibly being organic, but not which product. I'd say they covered their asses by not being overly specific.

This is a brilliant business plan. I'm going to open a pharmacy and hang a sign that says "FDA approved" over the medicine shelves. Of course, most of the "medicines" will merely be capsules filled with melamine powder. But my ass will be covered, because I never promised the customers that any specific medicine was FDA approved. As Lloyd Blankfein would probably say, caveat emptor!
Posted by Furcifer on May 25, 2010 at 2:27 PM · Report this
balderdash 10
Higher profit margins through semantic pedantry. Thank Greenspan for the Oxford comma!

Seriously, this kind of letter-of-the-law, "That's only what you THOUGHT we said" technically-not-lying is just intolerable. Fuck these weaselly shitheads.
Posted by balderdash on May 25, 2010 at 2:41 PM · Report this
zombie eyes 11
And BP is on the forefront* of environmental responsibility*.

*please see terms & conditions
Posted by zombie eyes on May 25, 2010 at 2:49 PM · Report this
The terms Organic, Natural, and Sustainable aren't defined by the FDA to mean anything. "Certified Organic" means certified organic by FDA rules/laws. The rest are advertising terms.

I'm curious what the FDA process is for validating that food labeled as "Certified Organic". Are there "certified organic" inspectors? They could all be lying.

@8, go ahead and open that pharmacy. Nutritional supplements and vitamins aren't considered "food", so the FDA doesn't actually require that they contain what the packages say they contain. Your ass is already covered. Fill capsules with dirt and rake in the $$$.

Buy beef directly from a local farm if you care what you're getting and who is getting your money.
Posted by sammielu on May 25, 2010 at 2:51 PM · Report this
“Organic and natural, grass fed and local” to me, means all four of those at once. At worst, either both of the first two or both of the second two. Perhaps what was meant was "Organic or natural or grass-fed or local."
Posted by Orsh on May 25, 2010 at 2:52 PM · Report this
@4 I would prefer not having to parse the language of the claims made by my butcher. Once you get to the point of "well we didn't say 100%" you've lost me as a customer.

I went in to the Madison Park store about a week before the story broke and got some tasty New Yorks. Since then I have been waiting for them to improve and they haven't. I am not even all that concerned about whether it is organic or not, but I sure as hell don't like to be tricked.

So go fuck yourself Bill.
Posted by giffy on May 25, 2010 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 17
See or for how this should be done. Neither uses the term "organic" but both have a list of minimum standards their suppliers need to adhere to in order to be sold there, and both have maps with names/locations of farms at their physical stores.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on May 25, 2010 at 2:57 PM · Report this
w7ngman 18
#4, if you don't say WHICH is certified organic, you're kind of implicitly saying that it's ALL certified organic, no?

Nice follow up to their response. It's really pointless to showcase sources if they aren't going to showcase ALL of them or at least tell you which meat comes from the sources that they showcased.
Posted by w7ngman on May 25, 2010 at 3:25 PM · Report this
John Scott Tynes 19
I think this level of sniping is unnecessary. It's clear what they want to do and be, it's clear they're working towards that, and all you're doing is giving them shit while they try to get there. This is classic leftist behavior: scream and rant at our closest allies instead of our actual enemies. I'll happily shop at Bill the Butcher.
Posted by John Scott Tynes on May 25, 2010 at 3:41 PM · Report this
GlennFleishman 20
@19: "I think this level of sniping is unnecessary. It's clear what they want to do and be"

Yes, they want to market their products as appealing to specific virtues without actually being responsible for providing those virtues through the process of paying for them.

But they've apparently figured out that's a bad idea.

Honestly, JST, the Stranger is trying to hold a local business that alleges a particular worldview to the standards that the business is promulgating. Seems like a consumer reporting service to me.
Posted by GlennFleishman on May 25, 2010 at 3:51 PM · Report this
w7ngman 21
#19, "It's clear what they want to do and be, it's clear they're working towards that"

Yeah, and their "ground beef shoulder" is actually 50% anus. But it's ok, because they *want* it to be 100% beef shoulder, and they're working towards it.

Posted by w7ngman on May 25, 2010 at 4:12 PM · Report this
Fistique 22
Typical leftists, demanding actual transparency and accountability instead of just a vague desire for those things.
Posted by Fistique on May 25, 2010 at 4:29 PM · Report this
burgin22 23
Surely this is the most pressing news story of the year. Thanks for the crack expose!
Posted by burgin22 on May 25, 2010 at 5:17 PM · Report this
I shopped at the Madison Valley location of Bill the Butcher shortly after they opened and was told all the beef was organic and grass fed, though the butcher did acknowledge that it was not necessarily grass finished. With that, however, I was assured that none of the animals were fed meat corn, but rather organic mixed grains.

I appreciate the concept but there is no excuse for deceiving your customers with outright lies. What kind of "system" do you need to "track" local meat? It's all bullshit to me, and I'm not going back.
Posted by melindalane on May 25, 2010 at 11:07 PM · Report this
I think The Stranger's writers/editors would be more effective at getting to the truth with a well-rounded report if they also investigated what the terms "Organic" and "Natural" mean & whether it's possible that Bill The Butcher is doing the right thing or not. No argument that their employees should be better trained about what to call certified organic. From my reading of Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin's books, I learned that the backers of "Certified Organic" aren't necessarily looking out for what's truly best for consumers but more for a way to distinguish their products with a label that allows them to charge more. I think you'll find that the very best meat, poultry, eggs and vegetables you can buy aren't going to be labeled "Certified Organic". But you will find that *most* certified organic stuff out there comes from the industrial organic world which has manipulated the rules for their benefit.
Posted by Joel Robinson on June 11, 2010 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Good Job Stranger writers! Way to show how a butcher fails to use a comma. Whats next an article about how, despite Everyday Music's signs you failed to find one band that performs Rock Pop Soul Jazz Techno Rap Classical Metal Folk Country?
Posted by Tyler Durden on June 14, 2010 at 10:09 PM · Report this
If transparency is of such high regard, why was it when the state told you that you were violating smoked meat processing restrictions, your comment to me was that "we'll just do it on the week-ends when there are no inspectors out working"? I have had so many problems with the Woodinville store. Yes, most of them "growing pain" related. But I'm over it. The quality of product HAS gone down since opening, and I have grown weary of paying for your mistakes and then not having quality stand up...
Posted by il-ca-wa on July 13, 2010 at 2:54 PM · Report this

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