Chez Panisse chef opens butcher shop in Berkeley

Former Chez Panisse chef Aaron Rocchino at the cutting table in his new butcher shop on Cedar Street. Photos: Tracey Taylor

On Tuesday, Aaron and Monica Rocchino quietly opened the doors to their new business, an artisan butcher shop where the term “snout to tail” really comes into its own.

The Local Butcher Shop, in the old Red Hanger Kleaners space on Cedar Street in the Gourmet Ghetto, has already attracted dozens of curious foodies.

One-on-one customer service, offering cuts of meat hewed from whole carcasses, is the principal order of business. But providing some meat — most likely beef — to Aaron Rocchino’s former boss, Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, is also on the cards.

Rocchino joins a long line of Chez Panisse alumni who have gone on to open their own food businesses, many of them locally. He is also part of a movement centered in the Bay Area that is focused on the provenance of meat, sustainable raising methods and informed, responsible butchery.

The Rocchinos, who met when they were both working at Oliveto Restaurant nine years ago, have been working towards this moment for years. As Berkeleyside reported in May, the couple believe there’s a void in the market for restaurant-quality, sustainable meat for home customers.

Aaron and Monica Rocchino: their goal is to bring restaurant quality meat to the home cook

“Being in the restaurant business exposed us to great meats,” says Monica. “The impetus for us is that we wanted to get that quality to home cooks.

“Most stores sell boxed meats,” she continues. “And most restaurants don’t have the staff or space to accommodate whole animals. But farmers invest a lot of time and energy into raising their animals and we want to reflect that.”

Once its walk-in meat cooler is up and running, with its traditional hook-and-rail system, the new shop will be taking in whole carcasses of cows, pigs and sheep, and using every part of the animals, be it to create some stewing lamb, a jar of rendered fat, dog food or pork charcuterie.

The pair are also putting into play some innovative thinking when it comes to what they charge. They are implementing a “holistically structured” pricing system. This works by dividing up animals into three sections — front, middle and rear — and pricing accordingly. The thinking is that there is no rationale for charging more for so-called “choice” cuts of meat.

Butcher John Hogeland, who was previously at Whole Foods for 11 years, prepares cuts of meat at the newly opened Local Butchers Shop

“For the farmer and for us the costs are fixed. It was the meat packers and distributors who decided to put a value on certain cuts, like tenderloin or rib-eye steaks,” says Monica.

Aaron says there’s another reason some parts of the animal have traditionally been priced more highly: the easier it is to cook the more costly it will be. Cuts that require slow-cooking tend to be cheaper.

Thus, what the customer has come to consider as a higher quality cut will be selling for significantly less at The Local Butchers Shop than at other local stores.

Monica Rocchini behind the counter at the new butcher shop

The shop has been designed to look spotless and airy with an emphasis on transparency — butchers cut meat in full view of the customers, there’s a large viewing window on the meat cooler, and all the meat is displayed with chalk-board signs in frontfacing cases. “Nobody is going to turn their back on you while cutting or packing your meat,” says Monica.

The remodel was overseen by Andrea Ray Croyle from Berkeley architect firm Kahn Design Associates, and Kaufman Construction, also Berkeley-based. To save money, the couple did much of the work themselves, including painting the walls a combination of crisp white and black chalkboard. White subway tiles complete the clean look.

Roxy and Hubert Schaefer from Albany bought house-made pork fennel sausages at the new store on Thursday

The exposed wall of the meat cooler is clad in reclaimed redwood. “It was the fence of neighbors of friends in San Rafael,” says Monica. “We took it home and power-washed it, then spent 13 hours installing it.”

Everything sold in the store, apart from spices — including all the meats, the rubs and vinegars, marinades and artisan sodas — comes from no more than 150 miles away.

The farmers who supply The Local Butcher Shop include Mac Magruder of Ingel-Haven Ranch in Potter Valley, Mendocino (beef and pork), Hudson Ranch (pork) and Don Watson (lamb), both in Napa, Phillip Paine in Sonoma (squab), Liberty Farm in Sonoma (duck), Bill Niman of BN Ranch in Bolinas (turkey), Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio (rabbit), Riverdog Farm in Yolo County (pork), and Gleason Ranch in Bodega (chicken and pork).

Meat cuts are priced according to their location on the animal -- front, middle or rear

The Local Butcher Shop has a staff of nine as well as the Rocchinos. They are Ross Woller who came from Oenotri Restaurant in Napa and is in charge of all the charcuterie and “added value” products, Seth Crabtree who hails from charcuterie company Boccalone, sandwich master Kel Troughton, Bill McCann who has worked as a butcher for 40 years, John Hogeland who was at Whole Foods for 11 years, Liz Halbig who went to culinary school, works at Holistic Hound and is an expert on dog food, and Enrique Martinez who splits his time between the shop and his other post as a server at Chez Panisse.

The store sells a daily sandwich — on Tuesday it was braised Magruder pork shoulder with grilled onions, tomato, mixed greens and feta on an Acme herb deli roll, Wednesday was roast beef.

“We have an idea of a place where people come in and sip wine and nibble on charcuterie while they choose their meat,” says Aaron. This concept will need to remain unrealized for now, however, as the pair don’t have the required permits for serving drinks.

“But one day, perhaps,” says Monica. “Either here or maybe somewhere else.”

It’s clear this energetic couple has “the vision thing” down pat. Meanwhile, they have a new business to run. The Local Butcher Shop has its grand opening on Tuesday August 30, but is serving customers now.

A viewing window has been cut into a wall of reclaimed redwood to allow customers to look into the shop's meat cooler

Chez Panisse chef to open artisan butcher shop [05.26.11]
Pickled tongue and paté: Café Rouge butcher goes solo [06.09.11]
The Fifth Quarter Charcuterie to debut at farmers’ market [07.20.11] 

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  • Antoniosanahuja

    awsome  my  dad  iz  in  the  paper!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  haaaa!haaa! loozrs!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bruce Love

    Maybe there is some reason why it would be a bad idea but, if not, I’d like to suggest that they keep up to date prices available on the web — ideally with an RSS feed.   That way, opportunistic shoppers like me can more easily decide when to make the trek to northside.

    Also, like the photographer, I gather, I really enjoy the excellent lettering on the signs. 

  • ENC

    Fantastic! Been waiting eagerly for them to open…

  • Good article, bad headline. No matter how you slice it, Cedar and Shattuck is not the “Heart of Berkeley.” –Hmm, seems like someone at Berkeleyside agrees–my RSS reader says “Heart of Berkeley” but the post no longer shows this :-)

  • CuriousOmnivore

    This is interesting.  In this article the meatcutters that operate the shop, as well as the farmers who raised the animal, are celebrated, yet the person who has the unsavory and dirtiest job of all — slaughtering the animal — has been omitted.  Sad.

  • DC

    Awesome!  I can walk to this, and will be getting my meat there in future.

  • Georgen

    A SUPER article about a young entrepreneurial couple from Berkeley, about to take the big leap. Congrats Monica and Aaron…. much luck and success!
    george & gaby

  • Cjm_rjm

    As your caring Uncle I take great pride & no credit at all for your hard work & great planning.  I am bursting with admiration. 

    It was great seeing you last week & looking forward to seeing you around Labor Day.  Love, Uncle R.

  • Sherryr33

    Congratulations to Aaron and his wife, Much success !

  • Lori

    Well Berkeleyside, thank you for not showing a skinned whole (oops, I mean headless) rabbit again, that was kind.

    It’s like the great Wizard of Oz.  All the slaughtering goes on behing the curtain.  I’m sure people are pleased that they can see the carving maestros cut up an animal’s leg right in front of them.  But it’s gourmet, doncha know?  I wonder how a butcher shop would do that shows the process of a live animal being slaughtered right in front of its customers!

    I’m all for local businesses and people following their dreams.  I’m sure these people are lovely and loved.

    It just makes me sad too. *sigh*

  • Anonymous

    Re: “a void in the market for restaurant-quality, sustainable meat for home customers” … I wonder why Magnani (on Hopkins) isn’t mentioned. I’m no expert foodie, but it seems to me that Magnani qualifies as an artisan butcher shop, or something pretty similar. Anyone want to hazard a guess what the difference is?

  • Omnivore

     Rabbits are really tasty. Really, the cuter they are, the better they roast.

  • Annlittlewood3

    I would like to know more about how the animals are raised and slaughtered. Pasture raised? Slaughtered on site or trucked elsewhere? These are mostly humane issues but grass-fed is also a health issue–the fat is less damaging to us than grain-finished.