Making a Killing in the Time of COVID

The pandemic has forced many to cut costs right down to the bone—but not Western Daughters.

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Interior of Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, with meat cases full of meat products and wall shelving full of jars.
Kate Kavanaugh says COVID has changed customers' buying habits. / Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe

On October 9, Kate Kavanaugh, owner of Denver’s Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, posted a lengthy, impassioned, and somewhat exasperated plea regarding a surplus of grass-fed ground beef at her butcher shop. It read in part:

At our butcher shop we are in a pickle. We have too much ground beef because of restaurant closures and reduced capacities. I have barked up every tree. It’s worth noting, that some restaurants will not even take us up on our offer to match their COMMODITY ground beef pricing and give them grassfed beef instead. Y’all won’t even consider supporting local farmers and ranchers at NO EXTRA COST TO YOUR RESTAURANT. That’s right, local, 100% grassfed beef, regenerative practices – and people won’t even take it at the same price they’re getting shit CAFO beef for. This, frankly, sucks. It means that my farm partner is struggling and our business is beginning to struggle as a result. These are real people with real businesses, not Cargill and Swift – faceless corporations….But I need your help. I need someone to take larger quantities of grassfed ground beef. I have tried schools like Graland and Kent – no reply. I have tried restaurants – no reply. I have tried institutional procurement programs – no reply. I get it. It’s hard times. But if we don’t work to help one another out then it’s going to be even harder times.

We reached out to see how Kavanaugh’s business has been affected by COVID. Here are her answers.

DiningOut Magazine: How have sales been in 2020?

Kate Kavanaugh: Sales have been very good at the shop. This is the first year that we reached profitability. What COVID has done for us is show us what customer base it takes to make this business model sustainable. Everything comes back to economics of scale.

People having a clearer view of industrial meat plus empty grocery store shelves has forced people to look for new sources. In March, they found us. What’s interesting is how many customers we’ve retained. Business really peaked in March and has tapered some since then, but we are still up a lot since last year.

DO: What changes to services or operations have you made since March?

KK: We have added a limited radius of in-house delivery (all those Mercato and Uber grocery [services] take 15 percent that neither I nor my farmers can afford). We added multi-product boxes. And we had avoided doing share programs but we are now doing them. We added an evening shift [to accommodate the demand for shares] and increased staff by 35 percent at least.

DO: How have the ranchers you buy from been affected by the restaurant shutdowns?

KK: [At Boulder’s] Buckner Family Farm, other than Western Daughters which is their biggest account, before COVID 95 percent of their sales went to restaurants (about 50/50 by volume of meat). Now it’s about five percent and 25/75 by volume.

[COVID] could be a critical turning point for local food and how we source meat. It’s given us the gift of seeing into the industrial complex and how it works.  So many of the farms and ranches we work with initially sold out….this is what it takes to turn around this ship. We can’t lose that momentum.

What business are you curious about in these—say it all together now—unprecedented times? Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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