Many of our customers can still relate to the “good old days” in the meat business when the local butcher stood behind the meat counter and recognized every customer as they approached. Each shopper was greeted with a warm “hello” followed by their first name, and then most likely the butcher would ask them how they'd enjoyed the pot roast they'd cut for them last week.
Behind the counter stood a huge wooden cutting block and on the wall behind that hung a large assortment of knives and hand saws used to cut and trim the meat as he or she took it off the hanging carcass. The area around the meat case had a distinct smell of freshly butchered meat and the floor was covered in a fresh layer of sawdust from the lumber mill down the street...
For those of you who are under the age of forty, this is only something that you may have seen in an old movie, magazine or book; the meat business has seen a great deal of change since those days when local butchers cut hanging beef, pork and lamb in their stores.
Some of the changes, like the removal of saw dust and wooden cutting blocks, occurred as we learned that there were much more sanitary ways to handle raw meat. Most of the changes, however, occurred as the result of a need to be more labor efficient. Today, depending on the retailer, much of the processing is no longer done in-store. Instead, the meat often arrives at the store already shrink-wrapped in Cryovac and loaded in boxes. No longer are whole carcesses kept on-site in large coolers.
As things changed, the need for expert meat cutters rapidly diminished and the idea of making a career of meat cutting all but became extinct. Large box stores and supermarket chains have gone from having a dozen or so apprentices and journeymen in-store to operating with as few as one or two individuals who frequently don't know anything about the physical attributes of the animals that they sell.
Today in most stores you need to buy what you see in the case as-is. The ground meats arrive in store all pre-ground and often pre-packaged. Things like fresh or smoked sausages are simply not available but sold as prepackaged brands that claim that they taste just like their homemade “old fashioned” predecessors.
At Prisco’s, we are proud to say that our meat department has held true to its roots for 90 years now; we still run our meat department in very much the same way as it was run back when great grandpa Prisco first opened his shop on Bishop Avenue.
While the wooden chopping blocks, the saw dust on the floors, and the rails of hanging carcasses are only memories, the care and hand craftsmanship that goes into preparing each piece of meat that you purchase at our store remains intact. This, of course, can only be accomplished by maintaining a steady stream of young apprentices eager to learn the art of meat cutting.
I’d like to introduce you to Tysen Sandifer, our newest meat apprentice. If he already looks quite familiar there are good reasons for that:
Tysen is not just an employee but a neighbor who lives with his family only two blocks from the store. He first came to us about 2 1/2 years ago when he applied for work as a member of the clean-up crew. For the most part, members of the clean-up crew work behind the scenes each day scrubbing down and sanitizing the counters, floors, walls, and ceilings, as well as all of the saws, slicers and other equipment used to grind, cut and wrap our meat.
Last year when I took over as manager of the meat department, I recognized a number of good qualities in Tysen and really appreciated his strong work ethic. I soon offered him a promotion to become a meat wrapper. Having mastered that job, Tysen and I began to talk about his plans for the future and what he would like to pursue as a career. In time his interest in learning more about the meat business became apparent.
Born in Geneva and raised in Rock Falls, Tysen attended Aurora Catholic High for three years and graduated last year from Aurora West. He is presently a freshman at Waubonsee Community College pursuing a liberal arts degree. Standing in at 6’5”, Tysen is a real gentle giant who enjoys a friendly pick-up game of basketball, a sport he excelled at in high school.
As Tysen and I met recently to go over his performance review, he made it clear to me that he thoroughly enjoyed working at Prisco’s and asked if he could continue to expand his knowledge of the meat business. We agreed to have him embark on a training program as a journeyman apprentice, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have Tysen on board as it helps to assure that the skills of meat cutting will be passed along to another generation. Next time you visit the store, please join me in congratulating Tysen on becoming or newest meat apprentice.
See you in the meat department!
Chris Tope – Prisco’s Meat Department Manager