Lamb chops on Main Street
Many of us no doubt remember the family-owned butcher shops in the communities where we grew up, often just down the street from an open air fruit and vegetable store and a bakery. Nothing was frozen, which made frequent trips necessary to keep our refrigerators stocked with our favorite foods. That's what Matt Shockley remembers from his days growing up in Los Gatos -- the small butcher shop that always seemed busy with customers even with supermarkets opening up all around.
Now Shockley has his own. His Main Street Meat & Fish Market opened July 1 in what was once a real estate office and before that a bank building at 700 Main St., at the corner of Spring Street in the heart of downtown Pleasanton. It's sort of a fish and meat specialty shop with a long glass display case where butcher Scott Hoff serves customers an array of all natural cuts of beef, lamb, veal and chicken. Shockley only buys from distributors and meat purveyors who serve the top restaurants in the Bay Area, giving him a selection of meats that are above what you're likely to find in the self-serve counters at local supermarkets. Of course, his prices are higher, too. "All Natural," he explains, comes from farms where animals graze freely on ample acreage where they're not in close contact with others so don't require the antibiotic shots and other medications needed when cattle are shoved into the large stockades that you see off major highways. Those cattle pens, such as the ones seen along I-5, are what Shockley calls "finishing" lots where cattle meet faster-growing and weight-gain methods to make them ready for butchering quicker.
Shockley learned the importance of quality control when he took a job in the electronics business after high school, becoming one of the youngest managers in the field when he turned 20. Now 42, he said quality and precision were essential in his early businesses, including later when he opened a supply business in Los Gatos where he imported early-generation computer devices from China. He also ran a national distributorship called Giftronics, which gave him broad marketing skills. But he still kept eyeing that Los Gatos meat market as the ideal small entrepreneurship where he could bring all of his experience together. Now, with Hoff handling the butcher needs, he and his partner Tony Nora take care of the business needs with Bob Maas, formerly the owner of the 12-store RyNck tire chain, taking over as general manager.
With customer traffic already quadruple Shockley's expectations for July, he is eyeing a second store and even the long-empty lot across Main Street where its owners are still looking for a tenant for a building the city has already approved. Shockley also has started home delivery service after some of his elderly and partially-disabled customers asked if they could call in their orders.
Shockley spends much of his time in the field, working with premium purveyors and checking their farm suppliers to verify the quality he wants. He's especially concerned about chicken farms, which have been known to have food safety problems. Lamb also is high on his check list. He uses only California-grown lamb, citing increased concerns over Australian lamb which, though less expensive, no longer meets the taste test and has some health concerns. He also buys only whole fish, cutting them up in his Pleasanton store rather than buying pre-cut filets from suppliers as most grocery stores do. Cutting whole fish is risky, he admits, because much of the fish can't be used but you still pay the full price by weight. His supplier is based in San Francisco but also ships Columbia River salmon to the Pleasanton store now that it's in season. Fish not sold during the day is tossed and Shockley calls his supplier each night for a fresh delivery of fish the next morning.
Since not all of his customers are "eco-friendly," as he puts it, Shockley also offers certified Angus beef that's about 20 percent less expensive, though not all natural. Both provide tasty chops and steaks in a small downtown butcher shop that has added a new food boutique in Pleasanton.