NEEDHAM — More than 100 people filled several banquet tables inside Volante Farms stand recently for a four-course meal featuring beer from Jack’s Abby Brewing and meat from John Dewar & Co. The celebration was also cause for a tinge of regret: Volante is partnering with Dewar because the butcher needs a home. The shop closed after 35 years in business.
At the end of January, Dewar & Co. shuttered its Wellesley location, almost two years after closing its flagship Newton Centre store. Named for butcher-to-the-stars John Dewar, the shops were owned since 2006 by T.F. Kinnealey & Co., a quality Brockton meat business. The main problem was Dewar’s location in Wellesley. Kinnealey, says Dewar, “arbitrarily decided it wasn’t performing the way they wanted, with Roche Bros. on one side and Whole Foods on the other.” Then he catches himself and adds, “I work for Kinnealey 100 percent. Whatever is best for Kinnealey is fine in my mind’s eye. I was just a little sad.”
In fact, the butcher store’s fate had been discussed for more than a year, says John M. Kinnealey, company president. A lease renewal, relocation, and expanding store offerings were all considered. Customers are juggling demands on their time. They prefer one-stop shopping.
That’s an assessment echoed by customers and other retailers. At Dewar’s, says Kinnealey, “we maintained a very vibrant customer base but we saw them less often.”
The Hartman Group, a consumer research company based in Washington state, finds that consumers are now buying ready-to-eat foods or food that has some advance preparation 77 percent of the time. “So that makes going to the butcher shop more of a special occasion event,” says Hartman strategist June Jo Lee. “It’s not that we care about meat less. It’s that we’re stocking up less. We’re not even planning ahead for a day or two. As a consumer, if I don’t know what I’m eating tomorrow, do I really want to have meat sitting around that I might not even get to?”
Connie Kickham of Holliston fits that profile. John Dewar’s & Co. was her go-to butcher for special occasions, but the extra stop and high prices kept her from regular visits. “I’ve been shopping there for 15 years, but only a couple of times a year,” says Kickham, who attended the Volante dinner, a feast of braised brisket, short ribs, and oxtail. “As a luxury standard, I knew if I needed something special I could go there. For meat that we eat everyday, I will frequently go to Roche Bros., Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s, where they have prepared meats that are done well.”
The United States is the largest consumer of meat in the world, which includes beef, pork, and chicken. The average person ate a total of 155 pounds in 2011, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Even with Dewar’s closing, the number of artisan butcher shops has been on the rise in the past decade. These shops, which include M.F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats in Somerville, butcher animals raised locally on small farms, and sell the entire animal, including less traditional cuts. “Anytime a meat business closes, it impacts everyone else, positive or negative,” says Dulock butcher Jesse Hassinger. “Our customers are both lamenting Dewar’s closing and curious, asking, ‘Are you guys OK? Will this hurt you?’ Honestly, we’re different from a place like Dewar’s.” The difference is in the selection of cuts. Dulock’s sells lamb necks, beef suet, pork brisket, and only one beef tenderloin per animal.
Volante is selling John Dewar & Co. branded cuts — including short ribs, rib-eye steaks, and beef tenderloin — in individual vacuum-sealed servings. Special orders can be delivered within two days. Steve Volante, farm co-owner, says meat sales have doubled since the partnership and Volante is in talks with Kinnealey about an on-site butcher.
“It was nice in the old days when you could go to the fish guy to get your fish, the produce guy to get your produce. Today, everything is centralized,” says Volante. To meet the demand, Volante renovated two years ago and reopened with a kitchen, a chef, prepared foods, and pre-washed greens. Selling Dewar meat fits the new model.
John Dewar was meant to be the guest of honor at the Volante dinner, but was sick that night. For many years before the sale to Kinnealey, he supplied meat to the top restaurant kitchens in Boston. He’s been happily sharing his expertise with Volante and hopes for a long-term relationship.
“It was a great run,” Dewar says wistfully about his butcher shops, then adds: “I’m 71 and I ain’t done yet!”
Volante Farms, 292 Forest St., Needham, 781-444-2351.
T.F. Kinnealey & Co., Fruit Center Marketplace Milton, 6 Bassett St., Milton, 617-696-2260.