A butcher says she’s closer to vegetarians than to conventional carnivores.
by Melanie McGee Bianchi . photo by Matt Rose
What’s a gal to do when her bonesaw breaks? Unfortunately, it happened to meat cutter Karen Fowler in the first week after she opened the Chop Shop Butchery in October. (Luckily, Fowler says, she was able to power through part of a 1,000-pound steer with just a handsaw.)
She and business partner Josh Wright were busy all summer designing their new retail space, which sits between Blue Water Seafood Company and City Bakery on Charlotte Street just north of downtown. To them, sustainable food isn’t a hobby—like growing heirloom tomatoes or puzzling out the quirks of an urban chicken flock. It’s a business philosophy. And at the butchery, the staff will both sell meat and attempt to educate customers about sustainable meat farming and responsible eating.
For Fowler, slicing up meat is an impassioned career choice and a strenuous trade, requiring preventive physical therapy, targeted workouts and mandatory stretching breaks. Butchering, she says, “is gratifying, but very physical—it can be extremely taxing. You’ve gotta be tough.”
Not that she’s complaining. Because she wouldn’t be busting out the chops, as it were, if the store had not garnered such a big response from the local-food movement and community. Aiming to “bring back the neighborhood butcher shop,” as their slogan attests, Wright and Fowler emphasize the use of the whole animal. And those beasts—cattle, lamb, pigs and so on—are overwhelmingly native to WNC farms, where they are ethically raised and slaughtered as humanely as possible. Not counting some especially good salami from Pittsburgh, “the [most distant] piece of meat I have is coming from Winston-Salem,” Fowler says.
The Chop Shop seems like a good fit on its Charlotte Street block, with the seafood company and bakery making a hat trick of fresh-provisions retailers. “Food is different here,” notes Fowler, who, at 34, has been in the restaurant business half her life. In Asheville, she made her name cooking at Cucina 24, The Admiral and Pomodoros. Then she did stints in the meat departments at Greenlife and Earth Fare, where she honed her customer-service skills along with her knives—and realized that shaping solid relationships with clients rivaled her zeal for carving livestock. “I get to translate my passion for food into teaching people to cook—how to take something raw in front of them and turn it into something wonderful,” she says.
She has yet to collide with a peeved vegetarian, and insists she has much in common with socially-conscious meat avoiders, the ones for whom industrial farming is the chief enemy. Such folks like what she’s doing. Her opponents, she says, might include the uninformed vegan or a lazy carnivore snacking on Slim Jims from the corner convenience store. “You could be vegetarian all day long and still be getting produce from Chile,” she points out. “I’m supporting local farmers, putting out fresh food, creating community. How can that be bad?”
For more info, check out www.chopshopbutchery.com.