Last month, it was “the party.” This week, the short-lived “pandemic drone.”
After 2 turns in the national media glare, the 3rd time’s the charm.
Today, Vanity Fair turns its spotlight on the men and women who keep Westport going in a pandemic..
Stephen Wilkes is a photographer and National Geographic Explorer. He’s documented endangered species and habitats, rising seas, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Ellis Island in decay and more.
He’s also a Westporter.
After hearing about a young Maryland woman infected by COVID-19 who was so devoted to working at a store that it killed her, he set out to photograph essential workers here.
He said “so many great, small mom-and-pop shops are making sure that everybody is okay right now. Without them, I don’t know what we’d do.”
Wilkes’ story includes photos of Gold’s Delicatessen, Carvel and Fleishers Craft Butchery, as well as EMS headquarters and a Metro-North train.
His photos — like the one below, of the Gold’s owners and staff, masked yet still offering curbside pickup behind yellow caution tape (the caption notes that owners Jim and Nancy Eckl celebrated their 37th anniversary “serving their devoted customers”) — are powerful.
And — after all the chatter about a party and a drone — the perfect way to start the weekend.
(Photo/Stephen Wilkes for Vanity Fair)
(For more photos, and the text, click here. Hat tip: Kerry Long)
When Saugatuck Center opened a few years ago, Saugatuck (now Fleishers) Craft Butchery helped deliver the buzz.
Now — as Bedford Square attempts to draw folks downtown — it’s adding its own field-to-table butcher shop.
M.EAT Organic Beef & Provisions opens this spring. The “old-school meat market with new school fundamentals” offers high-quality beef and lamb from Uruguay, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.
In addition to hand butchering, M.EAT will feature a “burger bar,” where customers can choose their own grind of meat types and fat content, accompanying organic cheeses and produce, as well as seasoning products, and cooking and equipment aids.
M.EAT will also carry domestic organic meat and chicken, with ingredients from local farmers and artisans.
“I’m truly saddened to be closing Craft Kitchen. It’s been my place of worship for more than 3 years, and my kids have been raised on Chef Emily’s food. We have the most amazing staff in the business who have showcased how to prepare and serve REAL food for our loyal and generous patrons and friends. The restaurant and staff have been integral to teaching people how to prepare Meat Raised Right.
“However, we’ve always been a butcher shop first. We think that it’s time to get back to our roots and refocus on providing a truly remarkable customer experience.
“In the coming months you can expect to see us double down on the quality and customer service you’ve come to expect from Fleishers, with an added focus on convenience for busy families. We want to be the trusted advisor for anyone who chooses to eat meat, and it’s absolutely imperative that we teach people why they should care and to make it available (and convenient) for everyone.”
Ryan Fibiger, at work.
Fibiger said that with over 10 wholesale restaurant clients in Fairfield County, Fleishers Craft Butchery offers abundant options of ground beef, sausage, bones, offal and more. He adds:
“The culinary scene has come a long way in just a few years. We used to be one of a handful of restaurants that would even consider serving chicharonnes, beef fat fries or oxtail stew. We had to be our own outlet. Now we’re joined by a community of restaurateurs who recognize that buying well-raised meat isn’t just the right thing to do — it tastes better, too.
“We’re proud to call Chef Emily Mingrone a true friend, who demonstrates the passion and creativity necessary to design a menu celebrating our whole animal philosophy. Working alongside Emily over the years has been nothing short of an inspiration. From themed dinners to killer brunches, it was truly our pleasure to have her at the helm. Expect big things from Emily as she starts her own venture later this year.”
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, 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.
The 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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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