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The Butchers Visit

Yesterday my post addressed the controversy that has sprung up around the deal being offering by The Butchers through buytopia.ca. I visited the store, met Marlon Pather,  and along with some of the buytopia team tasted samples that Marlon provided and we cooked.

I have some additions to make to my analysis of the Trueler post that played a significant role in starting the controversy. There is a lot wrong with that post but I tried to concentrate on the four potentially informative tests run on sausages that they purport to have bought from The Butchers: water leakage in a bag of frozen sausages; an iodine test for starch fillers; cooking the sausages and observing their appearance; and leaving a piece of sausage at room temperature for two days and observing whether it spoiled.

Mild and hot Italian from The Butchers. The sausages did not split.

Mild and hot Italian from The Butchers. The sausages did not split.

First, the room temperature spoilage test is absolutely unrepeatable because we don’t know the size or shape of the piece of sausage or the humidity or temperature of the room it was left in. Scientifically: next to useless. Secondly, after visiting the actual store I can tell you that any sausage even vaguely resembling the ones in the picture are only sold fresh so whomever wrote the Trueler post froze the sausages himself, without proper packaging, and in conditions we can’t judge.

The iodine test immediately after application. The Butchers on the left, my homemade bratwurst on the right.

The iodine test immediately after application. The Butchers on the left, my homemade bratwurst on the right.

Thirdly, I continue to to be skeptical of the iodine test. Marlon says he uses breadcrumbs in some of his sausages (but obviously not in his gluten-free turkey-chicken ones) and I suppose it’s possible that the sausages tested by Trueler were ones with breadcrumbs. Either way, I repeated the iodine test with a mild Italian sausage from The Butchers and (I think sensibly) used one of my homemade bratwurst as a control (you know, instead of a pear and potato). Marlon adamantly maintains that he does not use any chemical fillers in any of the sausages they make: organic or otherwise.

Iodine test after fifteen minutes. I observe no starch-indicating blackening on either sausage.

Iodine test after fifteen minutes. I observe no starch-indicating blackening on either sausage.

When we cooked the sausages they unequivocally did not split in the pan or oven. Sliced open they have a good medium-loose texture with recognisable bits¬† of real ingredients. Raw and cooked the aroma is absolutely intoxicating and the flavour is assertively porky. The sausages were a bit saltier than I’d usually like so I’d recommend starting by simmering them in beer or wine.

Cooked Italian sausage from The Butchers.

Cooked Italian sausage from The Butchers.

The rib steaks had a good amount of intramuscular marbling and while raw, a clean beefy aroma. Cooked they were good if not the best steaks I’ve had but compared well to other organic ones which, I think, when that factor is emphasised haven’t yet manage to best conventional.

Bone-in rib steak from The Butchers.

Bone-in rib steak from The Butchers.

The meal’s highlight though was the whole roast chicken from Field Gate Organics. Juicy, intensely chickeny, and with the subtly-grained texture that sets good chicken apart. There was nothing anonymous about my presence in the store and the meat was chosen for us but on the plate it was very good to excellent.

Raw, bone-in rib steaks.

Raw, bone-in rib steaks.

So, how does The Butchers manage to sell and fulfill all the deal-buying coupons? A full audit–unlike asking the Honda dealer what he thinks of the Ford guys prices–would be the only way to answer that for sure but from the looks of it the strategy is simply volume. If you are after the dozens of feet of always-stocked counter that you’ll find at Oliffe or the hyper-informative signage (breed and source farm) of Sanagan’s, The Butcher’s is probably not going to meet all of your needs. There is a line-up at peak times (so these vouchers are only valid on weekdays) and Marlon has had difficulty keeping the longer dry-aged beef in the counter because of demand. They’ve installed a quick-serve, sidewalk window for regulars to pick up orders and he’s willing to do custom dry-aging if you give him enough notice.

The dry-aging case.

The dry-aging case.

The organic and naturally-raised descriptors should really be thought of as parallel streams at The Butchers. A customer who asked for a chicken while I was there was asked if she wanted organic or naturally-raised without either being the assumed option. Here price comes into the equation and Marlon assured me that this list, which the buytopia page calls a “fixed price list”, is for organic meat and that the naturally-raised would be a dollar or two cheaper per pound.

Some fine looking shoulder in the case at The Butchers.

Some fine looking shoulder in the case at The Butchers.

And why go the online deal-buying route with such a large discount and a cut paid to the site that runs the deal? The consistently offered answer is that it’s cheaper, more targeted, more trackable, and more effective at actually getting potential customers through the door than traditional advertising. (The approximately thirty percent, industry-wide non-redemption rate on vouchers also helps.) The volume does seem staggeringly large but I’m happier about this particular deal having spent time with the buytopia team that backs it with their 30-day refund policy.

Michele and Dev were still having friendly, dedicated conversations with customers whose calls are routed to their cellphones, well after nine and apparently the madness starts again (even on Sundays) at seven-thirty. Their relationships with customers are made easier, I imagine, by Anatoliy, Gonzalo, and Ryan who make it plainly obvious that they are intent on vetting potential merchants to emphasise quality rather than quantity.

Should you buy this deal? That’s for you to decide. A hundred bucks is a relatively large commitment for a deal-buying voucher and the psychology that drives whether we feel satisfied, from a value perspective, by these transactions is beyond my expertise. Based on some further feedback I’ve read since yesterday’s post, from trusted friends who bought a DealFind voucher for The Butchers, I’d say the likely result is that you’ll feel more satisfied if you compare what you get to the $100 you actually pay rather than the $400 nominal price tag.

In the end I encourage you to get in touch with buytopia or The Butchers to have your questions answered. The meat I tasted was very good and I plan to go back and try more of it. I hope I’ve offered insights that help you make a more informed choice and I’m glad to be able to count myself among the skeptically curious rather than the venomous and anonymous.

Update: In their newsletter The Healthy Butcher takes a look at how the group-buying coupon model applies to butcher shops in Toronto. Obviously this is related to the buytopia deal from The Butchers. I haven’t confirmed that these numbers also apply to The Butchers but this piece is well-reasoned and informative enough that I feel comfortable offering it without further comment.

Further Update: Comments have been temporarily closed on this post.

Furthest Update: Comments from “Will” have been temporarily unapproved because of an undisclosed (past) business relationship that I believe represents a conflict of interest. Comments from the same IP have also been unapproved. If the commenters wish to amend their comment to disclose potential conflicts and use their full name I will consider re-approving them. For further information see the Comment Policy section of the About page and feel free to contact me at info@foodwithlegs.com.

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10 Comments

  1. interestin stuff says:

    Finally, someone settles this thing once and for all. I feel good about my purchases again.

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    Will: I’m glad to hear you have developed an objective means of tasting food. I’d love to test out your TasteTron 3000 at some point.

    I was clear about who I was with, that the samples were provided by The Butchers, and invited you to draw your own conclusions. The chicken and sausages were drawn randomly from the general supply at the counter and in the cooler case and actually the steaks were the only item that Marlon picked out specifically for us and, frankly, while good, were the item I was least impressed with.

    As far as the economics of the situation go I have offered observations while you have jumped to rather serious conclusions. Making the sort of accusations you have and speculating on the business’s future viability are serious statements and I hope you have not made them lightly.

    interestin stuff: Thanks for the comment but I hope my post was taken as encouragement to make your own decisions and ask your own questions rather than settling “this thing once and for all”.

  3. onlinecoupie says:

    Hi there,

    I actually had zero problem with the quality of food. I bought chicken and steaks and all have been delicious. My issue was with customer service as I was shouted at on two occasions by the butcher Eric Davis. I was told I could not use the coupon for smoked salmon and potatoes, but the coupon clearly stated “all products in store”. I have no doubt Marlon is trying to his best, but his butcher really needs some anger managment training. I actually see him often weekday mornings at Eglington Station with the worst expression on his face.

    Another question is, why are The Butchers doing so many deals? It seems odd that the fish shop was supposed to open in December and was delayed and delayed. Were these deals meant to fund the opening of this new store?

    Just some issues that really need to be addressed. Transparency can really go a long way when winning customers.

    cheers.

  4. mrs toronto says:

    You’re lucky he was expecting you. Because when I was there, all they had was ground beef and chicken legs.

    Sounds like they (Marlon + staff) were on there best behaviour; I saw a fight break out between Marlon and a middle-aged woman, on my last visit.

    Beyond the ‘usual’ less than impressive inventory, this place is running a ponzi scheme.

  5. Jim says:

    I have been eating there constantly since the dealfind deal. I find their selection when i go in to be terrible. I have placed several orders and they were all cancelled or they called me in and half the stuff was missing when I got there. I find that they sold way to many to keep up with and its a disaster getting anything. You just have to go in randomly all the time and hope for the best. My experience with the staff so far has been pleasant.

    HAVING SAID THAT. I have had their rib eye steak which was quite good, the lean ground beef is the best I have ever had. Their sausages, especially the lamb + feta are all excellent. The organic chicken was fine but not OMG. Had the steak and stilton pie that was good not great. I also bought some nitrate free dogs but have not had them yet

    I think in a few months it will settle down. I did go a little crazy and buy about $1500 worth of coupons for meat. But I do eat a lot of the foods that they have to offer. At 30$ a steak that will go fast.

  6. [...] follows up his post about The Butchers from yesterday. [Food With [...]

  7. foodwithlegs says:

    Will, I can imagine that if you spend your Saturday night crafting what I’m sure you think is a really witty comment that you might find actually reading the post you’re commenting too onerous. If you had paid more attention you would have noticed that I posted the link to The Healthy Butcher’s newsletter several hours before you commented. I think a critical eye needs to applied here if we extend what was said in that newsletter to other (even very similar) businesses. That being said I think The Healthy Butcher piece is well-reasoned and informative and that’s why I linked to it in the first place.

    As to my anonymity when visiting The Butchers I saw three options:
    1. Pay an anonymous visit;
    2. Accept buytopia’s invitation to talk to Marlon, take pictures in the store, and try the meat; or
    3. Do neither and let the horribly written, anonymous and largely unscientific post on Trueler stand as the only comment on the matter.

    Doing both options 1 and 2 were not possible given the short window between the controversy coming to my attention and the original end date for the deal. Single anonymous visits have an appearance of accuracy and objectivity but unless they are repeated a week (or more) later, at a different time of day, and on a different day of the week they can give a falsely negative or positive impression. A visit could catch a store (or restaurant) on a bad day or in this case a single visit might give a false positive (or appearance thereof) because The Butchers had generally raised the quality of product and service (or so, I imagined, some would claim) during the week the vouchers were on sale.

    Given these restrictions on an objective, anonymous visit I chose the route that I felt would best equip me to inform readers and raise the level of discussion. It wasn’t perfect and I make no bones about that but I stand behind my decision.

    BTW, I allowed this comment because I replied to your first one and thought it was fair to let you continue the discussion to a point. Readers should know that commentors’ opinions are their own and not endorsed by me, but I reserve the right to not approve any comment for any reason. I will be especially likely to do so if the comment makes personal attacks, statements which I think might be libelous, or if the commenter chooses to hide behind an anonymous handle.

  8. James says:

    This is not really objective assessment when you have been invited on a planned visit. However you already know this. It’s really up to you if you feel this review benefits the consumer but in actual reality to ‘The Butcher’. They need it too because of ALL the negative reviews, comments and experiences that are going around.

  9. [...] The Butchers Visit: For fairness sake I wanted to investigate the meat that was being offered at such a remarkable [...]