Bill the Butcher bets on local appeal over organic

After a costly personal and professional break-up, the co-founders of local meat purveyor Bill the Butcher are finally moving on. What's next?
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J'Amy Owens

After a costly personal and professional break-up, the co-founders of local meat purveyor Bill the Butcher are finally moving on. What's next?

The psychodrama surrounding a small chain of Seattle butcher shops is moving forward.

Bill The Butcher (a publicly traded company, very rare for such a small enterprise) reached a settlement two weeks ago with its co-founder, the butcher William von Schneidau, who had sued J'Amy Owens (Bill the Butcher's co-founder and his one-time girlfriend) for breach of contract. The protracted legal wrangling had theatened to bring down the company.

Terms of the settlement are not yet public, and von Schneidau (who now operates BB Rancha butcher shop at the Pike Place Market) told Crosscut this weekend, "I do not wish to comment." 

Meantime, Owens, a retail guru who has created stores for Starbucks and Nike chains, has taken over as CEO and chief financial officer of Bill The Butcher. Earlier this year, she hired a new financial consultant, Bill Watson of Finance 500With an avalanche of legal costs, uncertainty and bad publicity behind her, Owens feels she can move ahead with new stores and a national online roll-out.

Watson's firm will help restructure the company's debt and find the bridge capital to move forward. "Once we get the restructuring of the company completed, and solve a few other operational issues," Watson said, "I look forward to rolling the BTB concept out with J'Amy on a national basis."

Meanwhile, Bill The Butcher closed two of its six stores in the last few months: one in Old Bellevue and another in Madison Park that didn't have enough parking. Replacing those will be a store in Wallingford on Stone Way and one in Edmonds. Shops in Woodinville, Redmond, Laurelhurst and Magnolia remain open.

The company's 12,000-square-foot commissary, on the other hand, is in the cross-hairs of the new sports arena planned for the SoDo area and will be closed. And the company's chief butcher, Michael Laroche, has resigned. 

But with Watson's involvement, there are plans for a web site that will allow consumers across the country to order meat from Bill The Butcher, similar to the way online orders are placed at Salumi Artisan Cured Meats. In addition to the software, a major issue holding back interstate sales of meat is passing the appropriate FDA inspections. Watson says the company will soon announce the involvement of a company — "an über-vendor" —   with significant expertise in these issues.

Transparency, the ability to identify the specific provenance of Bill The Butcher's products, has been a concern for the company, especially after a critical article in The Stranger on the owners being tight-lipped about which specific ranches provide their meat. But Owens is convinced that the most important story is that the meat does come from local ranchers and farmers.

"Local trumps so-called organic every time," Owens told the Eater Seattle blog. "We know every one of our suppliers, and together we're going to change the way America eats."

The public data suggests that Owens is running out of time. There's less cash on hand than ever, and the projects she and Watson envision are costly. If Owens is right, however, there's pent-up consumer demand for healthy meat and support for locally grown food. 


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).