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: