When aspiring chefs and caterers Chris Carter and James Peisker struggled to find a steady supply of locally produced, organic meats for their events, they decided to solve the problem by opening Porter Road Butcher (PRB) – a brick-and-mortar, traditional butcher shop in an up-and-coming neighborhood on Nashville’s east side.
Working With Farmers
“You drive around Middle Tennessee, and all you see is farmland with livestock. It was strange to us that we’d have to go to Whole Foods to buy previously frozen meat from farms on the other side of the country,” says Chris Carter, co-owner of Porter Road Butcher. “That didn’t make a lot of sense, so we started going to the local farmers market to source our foods, but we had to be so far ahead [of catering events] that if someone calls last minute and says they’ve added on three people to the event, we’d have to go to Kroger to get steaks for the other three people.”
“And we thought to ourselves, we can’t be the only ones running into this problem,” Peisker adds, “so we set out to find a way to solve the problem that was plaguing us, as well as our fellow culinarians, and that led us here. There was no way for small farmers to get their products to consumers in downtown Nashville without there being a giant hassle for everybody involved. So what we tried to do is make a convenient way for local farmers to make a living, and for us to supply our friends and neighbors with a high-quality product.”
Carter says the farmers from whom they were sourcing took a little more convincing.
“They had been promised so many things, and they work so hard. It was really hard for them to accept these two 20-something kids coming in and telling them we’d buy up their whole cattle, and they wouldn’t have to come to the farmers market anymore. They can just work on the farm and spend time with their families,” he says of the farms with which PRB works, including KLD Farms in Ashland City and Tennessee Grass Fed Farm in Clarksville.
The Grass Is Greener
Kathy Gunn, owner of Gourmet Pasture Beef in Robertson County, is also an example of the farmer Carter talks about. Her husband, Josh, is a seventh-generation farmer. Together, they raise between 800 and 1,500 cattle on 850 acres. Gourmet Pasture specializes in grass fed beef, which means the cow spends its entire life grazing in the fields.
Gourmet Pasture Beef supplies beef to a number of Nashville restaurants, including Gabby’s Burgers and Fries, Pub 5, and 12 South Taproom & Grill, as well as Vanderbilt University. Since the company started in 2007, the Gunns have doubled their business each year, and Gunn attributes that success to a number of factors.
“I think there are a significant number of people out there who are looking for 100 percent grass fed, hormone-free beef. But a bigger part of our customer base just wants to buy local – they want to know where their food comes from,” she says.
The desire to buy and eat local is also a factor that has influenced the success of Porter Road Butcher, which recently opened a second location in Nashville. The shop’s high level of customer service has also played an important role.
“Part of our success comes from people wanting to know where their food comes from – people being smarter about what they’re eating,” Carter says. “We have new people walking in the door every day. We introduce ourselves to people and work hand in hand with them. Our repeat customers are extremely important to us. We know their names, their kids’ names, what they had for dinner, what they like to eat. We’ve helped them create menus for their anniversaries, for milestone birthdays, for every holiday. We really become a part of our customers’ lives.”
He’s quick to add, “We also love those first-time customers who wander in and say, ‘I have no idea what I want to do for dinner.’”