In this issue of Market to Table, meat department manager Rabbi Berel Wolowik shares his perspective on what it takes to run a meat department that is, in every way, a cut above the rest.
Market to Table Among the 15 butchers in Gourmet Glatt’s meat department, there’s a whopping 180 years of experience! Can you tell us a little about your own experience in the industry?
R’ Berel At the age of 21, I took what I thought would be a short-term job as a mashgiach at a well-known kosher slaughterhouse–but I ended up working there for ten years. During that time, I learned a lot about the kosher meat and poultry business; for a while, I was even the shipping and warehouse manager.
Eventually, I was promoted to head mashgiach of the plantís meat division, and during my last few years there, I served as the plant menaker ñ thatís the mashgiach whoís responsible for making sure that all the non-kosher fats and blood, the chelev and dam, have been extracted from the meat before itís kashered.
My next stop: Gourmet Glatt Emporium, where Iíve been happily employed for the last seven years.
MTT What are your duties as manager of the butcher department?
R’ Berel In general, it’s my job to make sure that our customers always get a superb product at the best possible price. So I spend a lot of time dealing with top suppliers to bring in fresh, quality products that meet the highest standards of kashrus.
Maintaining a work environment that encourages teamwork is another important aspect of my job. Experience has taught me that when an employee feels he’s part of a team, not just some guy filling a showcase, he takes pride in what he does–and he wants to do it as well as possible. And as a member of a team, he’ll always be thinking about ways to make the whole department work even better.
When I’m looking to hire a new butcher, my number one criterion is not skill–anyone can learn to cut a piece of meat–but willingness to be a team player.
MTT When it comes to quality, is it true that beef origin is an important consideration?
R’ Berel It is. Kosher butchers get their meat from various countries, including some in South America. But beef raised right here in the USA is known to be the best and has been for years. USA beef, which is the only kind we carry, is the most tender, marbleized and juicy.
Many kosher butchers carry at least some meat from South America. I handled both kinds during my early years in the business, and I can attest to the fact that South American beef tends to be leaner, drier and less tasty than USA beef.
MTT It sounds like a good part of your job is carried out behind the scenes. Yet, yours is a very familiar face on the Gourmet Glatt floor. How much personal interaction do you have with customers?
R’ Berel Between fulfilling special requests, answering questions about how to prepare a certain cut of meat, trading recipe ideas—some of our best recipes come from customers—and my wife, of course—I deal with customers all day long.
I also enjoy getting feedback, especially constructive criticism; our goal is to make this the best butcher department anywhere, and we canít do that without our customers’ input. If thereís anything that can be improved ñ from the amount of spice in our pre-seasoned items to the service—I want to know about it. And Iím thrilled that our customers feel comfortable sharing.
Of course, I’m always happy to get positive feedback too, so everyone should feel free to keep that coming.
MTT The word is that you give out your personal cell phone number and email address. Don’t you mind being on call all the time?
R’ Berel The secret that I have no hours has been out for years; customers call and text me with questions and orders from early morning till way past closing time. Iím not only okay with that, I encourage it. Even though Gourmet Glatt is a really big store, I want our customers to get the same one-on-one service theyíd expect in a mom-and-pop shop.
MTT There is a perception out there that meat prices spike before Pesach? Is that true?
R’ Berel It may be true in some stores, but not here, not ever. When I first started working here, someone in the industry said to me, “Berel, I know itís your first year in the retail business–but you do know that with Pesach around the corner, you have to think about raising some prices.”
I repeated what Iíd been told to my new boss. His response? “We donít raise prices before Pesach or any Yom Tov. Period.”
A few years later, one of our suppliers hit us with a bigger than usual price increase just before Pesach. Worried that we would take a big hit over the Yom Tov season, I asked my boss what to do. He gave me exactly the same answer as the first time.
In fact, not only do we not raise prices before Pesach, right after Chanukah I begin working with vendors to lock in prices that will leave room to offer great pre-Pesach sales in every category–beef, veal, chicken, turkey and more. Itís in the newspaper, it’s no secret: before Yom Tov our prices are actually lower than they are the rest of the year.
MTT Is there a reason you feel you have to offer lower prices for Pesach?
R’ Berel There sure is! Gourmet Glatt shoppers are not just customers; they’re our friends and neighbors. And we want to be sure that every one of them can afford to put something really special–a great roast or veal stuffed poultry, for instance–on their Yom Tov table.
Berel’s Product Picks
Any Item in Our New Oven-Proof Tray Packaging! Our pre-seasoned products are easier than ever to enjoy with Gourmet Glatt’s new oven/microwave-safe trays. All you have to do is remove the plastic cover and place the tray in the oven; no transferring of food and no messy pans to clean. Theyíre even freezer-safe!
Brick Roast Always tender, juicy and delicious, this is a great Shabbos or Yom Tov item. Be sure to grab the accompanying recipe card.
Surprise Steak A prime piece of beef cut from the rib eye, surprise steak is a great choice for London broil and probably the best grilling item on the planet.
First-Cut Corned Beef Requiring about one minute of prep time (just follow directions on the package sticker), this item is always a winner. The only downside? You can never count on having leftovers.
Seasoned Beef Kabobs This is a great choice when youíre running late and want to serve something quick and delicious for dinner. A guaranteed family pleaser!