But after a couple weeks, Yedra folded the company. He refuses to talk about the reasons, but others in the tight-knit industry say he was threatened legally by Niman Ranch. (The company's current CEO, Jeff Swain, denies this.) "He got scared," says Offenbach. Yedra's dream went on hold, he sold the van, and the brothers scattered, once again working for someone else.

While he won't talk about shutting down the company, Yedra still has aspirations in the Bay Area's meat industry. As Samiljan says, "Oscar's a smart guy; he knows how to keep his mouth shut."

Yedra says he likes his current position at the high-end Canyon Market in Glen Park, and in financial terms, "I do okay." Some in the butcher scene think he may be held back by his accent or being an immigrant; Yedra responds, "Absolutely not. I don't feel any obstacles." In Mexico, he opened his own company in his late teens, but here, he says he needs to save up for a loan. Meat is certainly an expensive business: Marsha McBride says she just breaks even on her Cafe Rouge meat market, but props it up with the adjoining restaurant, adding, "You compete with Trader Joe's and Costco and the big boys." Starting a cutting floor is even more complicated — finding a building up to USDA standards, heavy machinery, NIMBY neighbors. Offenbach from Golden Gate estimates the up-front costs add up to "$2.5 million to do it right."

Many in the artisan butcher movement say Yedra is among the best.
Michael Short
Many in the artisan butcher movement say Yedra is among the best.
Every other week, Oscar Yedra (left) cuts meat for B.N. Ranch, Bill Niman’s new venture.
Michael Short
Every other week, Oscar Yedra (left) cuts meat for B.N. Ranch, Bill Niman’s new venture.

"There's more to it than just being a good butcher," says Samiljan, who financed his Baron's Meat shop by mortgaging his house. Yet Ryan Farr at 4505 Meats says you don't need a fancy investor; he grew his business from peddling chicharones prepared in his home kitchen at Elixir. "We did not start this business with a large sum of capital; we started it with pigskins," he says.

After shuttering his own business, Yedra was swooped up by the Point Reyes Station butcher shop of Marin Sun Farms, the fast-growing company headed by grass-fed movement star David Evans. This led to another experience Yedra doesn't discuss.

As the company expanded, the company moved its meat-breaking into the F. Uri & Co. processing plant in the Dogpatch neighborhood. Yedra once again recruited family to the six-man butcher crew, says his brother, Miguel. Miguel says he and Oscar earned $31 an hour, and the shop handled a massive work load — breaking 25 beef, 25 lamb, 25 goat, and 20 pork carcasses a week.

Even as they won the first two Eat Real butcher contests for Marin Sun Farms, the brothers became frustrated with a new director of operations who arrived in 2010, Miguel says. According to Miguel, the manager wasn't experienced in the meat industry, and they once had to trash some 100 pounds of lamb and goat that had gone bad while waiting to be sold. The last straw came last November, when the company denied them a $1-an-hour raise, Miguel says.

Evans says that the lower-earning butchers received a bigger raise than the high-earning ones like the Yedras to "reduce the disparity among employees. " On Nov. 10, the Yedras requested a meeting with Evans and the workers at the processing plant.

Oscar won't talk about the company, but Miguel says Evans told them he'd opened a new butcher shop in Oakland, and couldn't afford giving them more money. "We're breaking our backs everyday for him to get those things — that shop and ranch. And he doesn't think about us," Miguel says. "They pay us for what they got. I'm not going to say I'm the best, but I know how to do my job. If you want quality, you got to pay."

After the meeting, nine butchers and drivers, including four Yedras, walked out.

"These were very skilled and highly proud people," says former Niman Ranch co-owner McConnell of the Yedras. Word got around the industry fast. "They're their own union," says Marissa Guggiana of the Butcher's Guild. "They took matters into their own hands. When you're working together like that, it's like working in a kitchen, and teams get really tight and really work hard."

Evans says all but the Yedras and one other employee returned to work the next day, once Evans explained to them why the lowest earners were getting a bigger raise. Marin Sun Farms "prides itself on promoting the welfare and aspirations of all its employees, not just its 'stars' but its up-and-coming butchers still learning the trade," Evans wrote in an e-mail. "MSF gained greatly from the know-how of the Yedras, have the highest regard for that family as butchers, and wish them the best in the pursuit of their future endeavors."

The Yedras scattered again, some signing on with the butcher's union, Renato ending up at Golden Gate's SOMA plant, and Oscar eventually getting his current job as head butcher at Canyon Market. Every other week he also cuts meat for Bill Niman, who now raises heritage turkeys and cattle with his new venture, B.N. Ranch.

When chasing a dream, it helps to be recognized, and Yedra is making little advances. Next year, Guggiana will be releasing the second edition of Primal Cuts, and she says Yedra will make the cut. Being what Dave the Butcher calls "the team to beat" at the Eat Real butcher contest with 300 spectators helps, too.

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