The customer base for whole animal butchery isn’t necessarily the moneyed bourgeoisie some people might assume it is.
“I have a lot of people who aren’t American-born,” says Angela Wilson, co-founder and butcher at Avedano’s Meats in Bernal Heights. “It’s people who can taste the difference in quality of better-raised meat, and probably they’ve come from a place where meat is raised better, so they have a standard by which they’re comparing.”
Another big segment of her clientele consists of people searching for harder-to-find cuts, like trotters or a pork butt with skin on it. Others are students in sausage-making classes or workshops where they work with half a hog in a one-on-one environment. Then there are the passionate fans of the Italian-style shop’s paninis, who stand on the intense-looking bull inlaid in the terrazzo floor, waiting for theirs. It seems like a stable, sizable pool from which to draw a healthy business. What becomes challenging, though, is stocking sufficient quantities of what Wilson refers to as “commodity” meats.
“Sometimes, we’re not going to have 20 racks of ribs if somebody calls,” she says. “We’re not a commodity, so we don’t just carry stuff like that all the time. In some ways, being a specialty whole-animal butcher shop has been a bit of a curse as much as it is a blessing, because people want the cuts they want, and doing whole-animal doesn’t provide that.”
That’s not the only difficulty of running a specialty store. Ticking off a list of small business-owner woes like taxes and labor costs, Wilson is afraid she sounds almost like a Republican. But mostly it’s the space itself, whose kitchen is about to get tighter as the adjacent building becomes condos — plus the cost of staying in it. Wilson has secured two five-year leases at 235 Cortland Ave., but a new landlord effectively doubled her monthly rent, to almost $8,000. It’s more than some bars shell out — and Wilson would know, as her partner owns nearby Holy Water and mega-dive El Rio.
Although Avedano’s has been around only since July 2007, Wilson was able to secure legacy status — with $2,000 from the city every month — because she found enough old photographs to prove that the site had been a butcher shop through most of the 20th century.
“I just got legacy status,” she says. “But still my rent is really high. Although I’d say this year, 2018, is a lot better than 2017, when we hit some dips because of all the meal kits and online shopping.”
Although Wilson emphasizes that she’s not looking to blast the landlord in the public sphere, obtaining legacy status essentially means she’s simply lining the property owner’s pockets.
Nonetheless, the thrill of her job has never abated. Wilson loves working with small farms to keep that essential element of California agriculture alive, and she’s opened a satellite location inside Maison Corbeaux, an upscale wine-and-spirits shop in Pacific Heights that was required to have a food component. Having lived in the same Bernal Heights home since 2003, she also operates her own chai company, a separate business that’s her “bread-and-butter.”
Avedano’s other two original partners, Tia Harrison and Melanie Eisemann, have moved on, and Erin Singer and Matthew Arthur have come on board. Although everything the shop produces remains pasture-raised, it has departed from its original vision in a couple ways.
“We were very strict and religious about everything being whole-animal,” Wilson says of the beginning, but the reality of running a business makes the cost of certain items prohibitive.
For instance, pastrami, the quintessential cured-brisket staple of New York delis. Wilson’s supplier produces it at scale for as much as she would spend on the ingredients alone. As a secondary consequence of not making pastrami, she robs her employees of the chance to learn a particular skill.
“That’s part of the joy,” she says. “When people are like, ‘I want to make this!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure’ — but I’m not thinking of ‘How many hours is that going to take?’ and ‘How much money is that going to cost me?’ ”
The next generation of butchers needs to figure these things out somehow. For all of Avedano’s acclaim, Wilson is forthright about how she and her original partners learned by doing, on the job. She already knew how to cut rabbits, chickens, and small animals, but nothing bigger. Dave Budworth of Marina Meats — aka “Dave the Butcher” — worked with them for a few years, and Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats as well, and the whole gaggle accrued their cutting experience together.
“The thing about butchery is the product costs so much, so nobody’s going to let you learn on their product — so we paid for their mistakes,” she says. “Even today, we teach [our employees] and if they make a mistake, I always say, ‘We’re not saving babies’ lives around here.’ Nobody’s dead, and mistakes are going to happen, and you’re never going to learn unless you make mistakes. It costs me money, but anyone who’s worked for me has learned on the job and become awesome butchers.”
Avedano’s Holly Park Market, 235 Cortland Ave., 415-285-6328 or avedanos.com
Read more from SF Weekly’s Bernal Heights issue:
Everybody Loves Bernal Heights!
But the beauty and charm of San Francisco’s preeminent urban village may not be fully appreciated.
From Bikini Joggers to Dead Cats: Bernalwood’s Tales of a Neighborhood
For eight years, the “community-powered news magazine” Bernalwood has carried the heart of Bernal Heights.
The Thrillpeddler: How Bernal Heights’ Punk Record Shop Keeps It Real
The volunteer-run Thrillhouse Records encourages people to come by with a beer and hang out.
The Mosque on Crescent Street
Bernal Heights is home to the Bay Area’s oldest mosque, one that historically attracted Muslims in the region but which retains its neighborhood feel.