Ryan Fibiger Crafts Quite A Business

Less than 5 years ago, owner Ryan Fibiger was carrying a whole pig from his van to his new shop: Saugatuck Craft Butchery.

A startled passerby called the cops.

The officer who arrived heard Fibiger describe his new venture: a shop dedicated to “better sourcing and better butchery.” The world deserves a sustainable alternative to factory farming, he said, and he planned to lead the charge through innovative ideas and traditional practices.

The policeman was fascinated. He stayed, looked around, and became one more convert to the better-butcher-store cause.

Ryan Fibiger, at work.

Ryan Fibiger, hard at work.

A lot has changed since that November 2011 day. The store grew, moved across Riverside Avenue and expanded. Fibiger and partner Paul Nessel merged with Fleishers Craft Butchery, and took on the new name.

Perhaps most importantly, they educated customers about humane treatment of animals, hundreds of types of meat cuts, and the incredibly flavorful joys of cooking the craft butchery way.

Along the way, Fibiger’s store became first a pioneer, then a mainstay of the new Saugatuck Center — and a destination for food lovers throughout Fairfield County.

Including, improbably, plenty of former vegetarians.

fleishers-logoThe story begins when Fibiger realized he hated his work as a banker/consultant, and had to get out. He found a Kingston, New York company — Fleishers — that was  committed to the art of butchery as a means for improving and growing a strong food community.

He apprenticed for 6 months, then opened his own store. It was a small operation — just he, Nessel and a couple of employees — but it was fresh, different, and a key to the nascent redevelopment project on the Saugatuck River plaza.

Customers saw — in addition to the owner hauling a pig on his shoulder — whole lambs on the counter. All the butchering was done out in the open, in full view of the store.

Some people were horrified. But those who stuck around learned about a lost art.

“Westport really embraced us,” Fibiger says. “We grew up in this community.”

Westporters grew up too.

“Most people are disconnected from where their food comes from,” Fibiger notes. “They’re disconnected from meat itself. They see it in a nice package on the grocery shelf. They recognize a few cuts. But there are hundreds of them.”

Fleishers' high-quality meat...

Fleishers’ high-quality meat…

“Whole animal butchery” is based on an old European model. Older customers tell Fibiger, “I haven’t seen that in 50 years.”

Fleishers — the Westport shop is now part of 5 in the small chain — sources from “real farms,” not feed lots.

...comes from humanely raised livestock.

…comes from humanely raised livestock.

As the store grew, so did the area around it. The Whelk opened across the plaza; Saugatuck Craft developed a partnership with owner Bill Taibe.

At first, the Saugatuck location was a risk. No one was certain the new development would succeed.

But now it’s hot. And, Fibiger notes, “I don’t think Main Street would have been right for us. It’s not where people shop for food.”

Food shoppers appreciate more than just Fleishers’ high-quality meat, and all-out-in-the-open butchering practices.

Every employee has an intimate knowledge of farms. They visit, talk to farmers, and see livestock being raised.

Fibiger is passionate about his store, his process, his accessible price points, his “insane transparency,” his meat and his customers.

But he has a special spot in his heart for kids.

In just 5 years, they’ve gone from being shielded by their parents from watching butchering, to being brought behind the counter to watch every step. They’re the future — of eating well, while supporting sustainable agriculture and humane practices — and Fibiger does his part to make sure they understand all that entails.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Something else has happened too. “Whether it’s medical or personal reasons, vegetarians are starting to eat meat again,” the owner says.

“They love coming to us. We talk about the humane treatment of animals. There are a lot of ‘ethical vegetarians’ out there. We share their values.”

Fibiger is proud that they trust him. He’s thrilled to celebrate his 5th year anniversary in Saugatuck. But like any good businessman, he’s always looking to improve.

Fleishers’ interior was recently updated. New products and cases were added. The restaurant is gaining momentum, as former chef Emily Mingrone — adored by the community — has returned. She plans exciting menu changes and dinner events this fall.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

And Fibiger just started working with a Pennsylvania lamb farm whose only other customers are 3-Michelin-star restaurants.

“We’re glad to be here,” Ryan Fibiger says, referring both to Saugatuck and “the romance of Westport.” He adds,  “We’re really glad that so many people understand and embrace what we do.”

Fleishers Craft Butchery is here for the long haul — and the whole hog.

11 responses to “Ryan Fibiger Crafts Quite A Business

  1. I love this photo of the little boy talking to the butcher! Adorable! It reminds me of my mom taking us to the ‘German butcher’ in Norwalk — who made his own sausage & would always give us a slice as children. (Hahaha… I think that was the actual name of the shop. It was there for years).

    The first time I ever saw a whole roast pig which had been carved & eaten leaving only the head — in Palermo Sicily at an outdoor fair — I WAS a bit horrified… but I recovered. (Thankfully there was nothing left to eat from it).

    A really good butcher like this is so very important if you make/eat raw Kibbe (or Steak Tartar or any other of the world’s variations of raw lamb or beef etc.). It has to be very good quality & very fresh & bought in the morning when the blades on the meat grinder are clean & have not been used. Unless you want to give people food poisoning! That is how not to accidentally kill your guests or family! …& mystery novelists you are welcome to the raw Kibbe plot line for your next book.

  2. Maybe they should use gloves !

    • @ RC Rose

      Testing has shown that washing hands is safer than using gloves as the gloves get pinholes in them & they are less sterile than washed hands.

      The trouble with illness from meat (e-coli etc.) begins long before it gets to your knowledgable & dedicated butcher or chef: she/he is the last person that wants to make you sick. Also meat from factory farming is more dangerous due to the practises they use. Which is the reason to go to a smaller craft butcher w/ pasture raised livestock like this one.

      The issue of keeping blades clean (in slicing & grinding equipment) has to do w/ germs on meat multiplying the longer it is left unrefrigerated. This applies to tiny bits left on the blade which are then transferred to meat even if it has been refrigerated. Gloves are not the issue — a knowledgable chef/butcher/staff who wash their hands & clean their equipment properly are safer than relying on gloves.

      • Elina Lublinsky

        Great comment!

        • x Elina

          I can’t take the credit or I will have to tell my Priest!

          The gloves thing is from an author I heard on WNYC (radio/podcast) in the last few days talking about food safety. He said it is a recent finding that the FDA has not implemented yet. (That was the least *scary* thing he told the World).

          The equipment thing is from a Lebanese woman w/ an online recipe blog on how to make sure the raw Kibbe (lamb or beef) you serve doesn’t kill the very loved ones you are trying to impress w/ your stellar cooking skills (or in this case *raw* skills). She said to go in the morning after they have cleaned the grinding machine & before it is used for anything else. Apparently everyone in Lebanon does this… when they are not being bombed into powder by their neighbour. Or my hint is simpler than fighting for a machine in the morning: Marry a butcher.

          My mother — a Berliner –did not take this precaution for her ground meat served raw. (Both German style & Kibbe learned from my dad’s family). She rather termed every violent illness I had in summer as a child “a stomach flu” or “a stomach virus” or when less *desperate* “a summer cold”. I believe we all had serious food poisoning as children & miraculously survived.

  3. Bart Shuldman

    Sit down and eat the best burgers in CT. So glad they added the dining area.

  4. Michael Calise

    Brings back memories. My dad would take a side of beef out of the “ice box”
    put it on the “meat block” and “carve it up” as a customer watched and picked out their very own cut of beef. Not that long ago.

  5. David Squires

    Great Story. We’re fortunate to have a Real Deal Butcher…

  6. This shop is the real deal. I hope that everyone in the area realizes that they have one of the best, if not the best butcher shop in the country in their town. It took me years to find a shop like this and my family couldn’t be happier.

  7. Leslie Wallant

    Keeping the old deli and butcher skills alive. Nothing more beautiful than an almost translucent slice of prosciutto.

  8. You might have mentioned that Fleisher means butcher in German…and Yiddish. (Speaking of people who would REALLY be horrified by seeing a pig carried around!)