Originally created 09/26/03

A cut above the rest



When a customer asked Brueckner's Pork Store to make him haggis, the shop declined.

The Scottish delicacy is made by stuffing a sheep's stomach with oats, barley and internal organs, and the traditional German meat and sausage shop didn't have a sheep supplier, said Ward Picklesimer, a store employee.

Still, many butcher and meat shops rarely turn down requests.

"If you want something special, if we can get it, we'll get it for you," said John Marks, the owner of the recently opened Delmonico's Fine Foods on Davis Road.

Once a staple of daily shopping, the butcher and meat shop has been overshadowed amid a landscape of gigantic grocery stores, but the niche market is holding strong by promising better service, variety and quality.

"There'll always be (meat) markets around just because of the personal service and the quality, and just being able to walk into my store and say, 'I want a ribeye that's an inch-and-a-half thick,"' said Ted Groomes, the owner of Grice's Meat Shop in Aiken.

Mr. Groomes is talking about meat cutting, in which steaks, lamb chops and just about any other meat is cut to size when ordered. Whether a customer wants a 1-inch-thick filet mignon or one veal cutlet, meat shops are ready to serve.

"You've got to go out of your way to get people to come back. That's why they come in here, to get what they can't at the Winn-Dixie," Mr. Marks said.

He specializes in high-quality, dry-aged beef but offers fancy cheeses, wines and vegetables to fulfill the needs of his customers. He also will special-order rare meats such as Cajun andouille - a type of spicy sausage - ham hocks or smoked beef tongue.

Similarly, Mr. Groomes expanded his selection to include seafood, chicken, veal and lamb.

"It's not just a beef market," he said.

The variety has paid off for Grice's. Mr. Groomes said his business has grown since he took over the shop nine years ago.

Still, the days of the old-fashioned butcher shop seem to be dwindling.

"The thing nowadays, it's harder to get the housewife to go to two different places," said Mr. Groomes. Butcher shops do not sell other household staples such as toilet paper or hand soap, he explained.

Doug's Butcher Shop on Deans Bridge Road is the only old-fashioned butcher shop left in Augusta. The shop, which keeps whole cows hanging in a freezer, started processing deer to supplement the business.

Grice's, Delmonico's and Brueckner's order meat in large hunks that can be cut into usable portions, but not whole animals.

Though Brueckner's, which specializes in homemade traditional German sausages and lunch meats, recently opened a second location in Columbia, Mr. Picklesimer thinks his days are numbered.

"Most of the customers who want this are older German people," he said. "We don't really have any young customers."

Meat shops also are facing increasing competition from grocery store chains such as Publix, which hires meat cutters in each store.

"We realize having a meat cutter is an expense a lot of our competitors have done away with," said Brenda Reid, a Publix spokeswoman. "We consider it one of the services that separates us from the competition."

Grocery stores might be trying keep up with the local meat cutter, but they'll never carry the same quality, homemade hot dogs as Brueckner's, Mr. Picklesimer said.

"Ours are straight beef and pork. Grocery stores will throw just about anything into them."

"You've got to go out of your way to get people to come back. That's why they come in here, to get what they can't at the Winn-Dixie." - John Marks, owner of Delmonico's Fine Foods

Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or james.gallagher@augustachronicle.com.