Sometimes you just want a sandwich or a slice. Other times you need the finest cut of meat money can buy for a special event. Increasingly, in either of those scenarios, you care about the backstory: Was your protein of choice humanely raised? Was it fed hormones and antibiotics? How was it harvested? Do its ranchers earn a living wage?
At the just-opened Chop Shop butchery in Newpark, butcher and co-owner John Courtney made those issues the cornerstone of his business – so customers don’t even need to ask.
Creekstone produces the highest-rated prime-graded beef in the country, Courtney said. Its meat is not just humanely raised, all-natural and grass-fed until the final ‘finishing’ phase, but is ethically harvested in a facility designed by famed animal rights activist Temple Grandin. Creekstone also pays ranchers 15 % above the U.S.D.A. commodities market’s set price, with additional bonuses when meat is grader higher than expected.
“We try to protect our ranchers,” Courtney said. “How much money goes back to the rancher, for me, is a benefit.”
The Utah farms, while operating on a smaller scale, employ similar standards and practices that met Courtney’s requirements.
The result? “You can taste the animal,” he said.
Chop Shop’s refrigerator cases are filled with cuts of beef, pork and lamb, house made sausages and bacon, and in the more labor-intensive section, quarts of bone broth, bolognese sauce and frozen biscuits. A dairy case offers selections both local and less local (from Utah cheeses to butter from the Parma region of Italy).
“My theory is to stay as local as possible,” Courtney said, adding that since he is just starting to work with small local ranchers, it will take time to build larger-scale local ranching and harvesting relationships.
Courtney co-owns the butcher shop with Chuck Heath and Dan Ibach. He’s a California native whose career in high-end restaurants has taken him around the country and to France. Most recently he worked in some of Las Vegas’s top kitchens, including DB Brasserie, Yardbird, and Joachim Splichal’s outpost there.
He and his family arrived here a year and a half ago when his wife Paige was recruited to helm the Waldorf-Astoria’s food and beverage program. After analyzing what the community needed business-wise, Courtney settled on the butcher shop-slash-grab-and-go concept, which he likens to a miniaturized version of Eataly, Mario Batali’s chain of Italian-centric food marketplaces.
Chop Shop’s opening was slightly delayed by Covid; now that it’s up and running, Courtney is in his element. He talks a mile a minute, spins yarns, shouts out props to the team of friends who built out the space (who are hanging out on stools nearby).
After the fast pace of big cities and marquee kitchens and chefs, “I’m much happier and much calmer than I ever have been in my life,” Courtney said, “even with the challenges of owning a small business.”
The butchery’s wood-fired oven is functional ambiance, offering not just charred pizzas and sandwiches but warmth that softens the concrete, glass and sharp edges that fill the space.
“The wood and fire scream ‘come on in,’” Courtney said.
Too cozy on your couch to come on in? For a $25 delivery fee, Chop Shop’s raw products can be brought to your door; then it’s on you to cook. No, you cannot order a pizza, so please do not try.
Order the porchetta sandwich, created as an homage to chef Rick Gencarelli, Courtney’s friend and the owner of Lardo in Portland, and it arrives exploding with shards of meat and arugula, dripping herby oil and juices, and nestled among house-made pork rinds that leave you certain you’ll never touch the bagged version again.
The place smells heavenly. And the porchetta tastes even better than it smells.