Find out how this dynamic duo launched the region’s most popular butcher shop. Plus, get insight into their relationship as cofounders, in a panel at 36|86!
By: Chris Carter, CEO & Cofounder of Porter Road Butcher
I never planned to open a butcher shop, own and operate a slaughterhouse, or build an online business. All my business partner, James, and I knew when we started was that we loved cooking good food, and wanted to share it with people.
From our first table at the East Nashville Farmers Market to the birth of PorterRoad.com, our mission has been clear: to provide our customers with the best meat they have ever tasted, while promoting sustainable farming and creating a food system that doesn’t rely on the inhumane treatment of animals and exploitation of people.
James and I met at a highly respected local restaurant after graduating from traditional culinary schools (CIA and La Cordon Bleu, respectively). We clicked immediately and shared ideas with regards to how food should be sourced and prepared. Namely, that food should come from local trusted sources and that consumers should be given accurate and complete information. The restaurant where we were cooking just wasn’t living up to the standards of transparency and honesty that we valued, so we went our separate ways with plans to open our own restaurant.
Turns out opening a restaurant is a difficult and time consuming process and we had bills to pay, so we started catering to cover our living expenses. Having our own catering company allowed us to set and uphold our own standards of seasonality, locality, and honesty. When creating our menus, we focused on what was available to us based on the season through farms we trusted, rather than creating a menu then shopping at chain stores to get what we needed. We quickly realized that even with chefs’ backgrounds and connections to many local farms, finding great local meat was challenging. If it was hard for us, we knew that there must be countless other individuals and businesses in Nashville who were also struggling to find locally raised, sustainable meat.
So, we changed course and Porter Road Butcher was born. From the beginning, our standards have been clear. Local, 100% pasture-raised meat, without antibiotics or added hormones. After a summer stint at the East Nashville Farmers Market, we opened up our brick-and-mortar location in East Nashville in 2011.
Initially, we planned on staffing the shop ourselves, not anticipating just how quickly people would flock to us for local, expertly butchered meat. Within a year, we had 17 employees and were overwhelmed with customers who had been waiting for a shop like Porter Road Butcher to open. Despite the surge of business, we stuck to our guns and never sourced our meat from distributors. Every single piece of meat we have ever sold has been purchased as a whole animal, making it easier for us to trace it back to the farm, cut-to-order, and utilize the whole animal.
The one area where we didn’t have control was the actual harvesting of the animals; we vetted the farms extensively then got the whole hanging animals, but the gap inbetween bothered us. The next logical step was to go slaughterhouse shopping.
We found a facility in Princeton, KY, which is centrally located to our farms, meaning that the animals don’t have to travel more than an hour from the pasture to us, and we worked hard to totally revamp and staff. We started with just four employees and now have a team of 26.
Owning our own facility not only gave us the opportunity to have full control of the process, but the ability to increase production meant that we were able to expand our shop offerings and start wholesaling in earnest. Porter Road Meat Co., the wholesale branch of our business, serves over 40 Nashville and Louisville restaurants and continues to grow, but the business didn’t stop there…
As our cult following in town grew, we had more and more people express that they wanted to share their love of our quality meat with their family across the country, that they were moving and didn’t have a trusted source of meat in their new town, or that having meat meet them on vacation would make life so much better.
In February of 2018, PorterRoad.com was launched, giving us the ability to ship pasture-raised, dry aged, hand-cut meat to anywhere in the lower 48 states. With help from a company called Red Antler, we were able to replicate the butcher shop experience online, with tools to help customers make their selections based on cooking time, and equipment, as well as offering tips and recipes.
Being entrepreneurs has been a more challenging and fulfilling experience than either James or I could have ever imagined. We got into this business to serve our customers the best meat and didn’t anticipate the community we would create with our employees and customers. Throughout the challenges that have arisen, we have upheld the promises we made to our customers from the get-go – which has been a guiding light during hard-decision times.
I also can’t understate the value of having an amazing business partner whose skills complement my own. As entrepreneurs, there are so many necessary skills, from the technical butchering side to marketing, and human resources. Having a partner means we can each focus on our areas of expertise to make Porter Road as strong as possible.