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Carne butcher shop opens

Sep 15th, 2013 | Category: Community

by Jessica Harbert

A new butcher shop aiming to offer mostly regional and local products has opened in downtown Bellingham, offering residents a variety of beef, pork and poultry cuts as well as goat, rabbit, animal organs, bones and more.

Carne, located on N. State St., opened in July under the ownership of local resident Chad Johnson. Johnson, who worked in the meat department of a large grocery store for several years, often thought about starting his own shop. Customers would ask him for specific cuts and products that were not available, he said, and “I was constantly telling people ‘Oh, I’m sorry we don’t have that.’”

Following a short stint at another large grocery store, his dream of “What if I had my own butcher shop?” continued, and Johnson decided it was time to start his own place. He spent two years looking at specifics of how the process and model would work, and ultimately reached out for additional funding through a Kickstarter campaign. Coming from a band background, he had watched this model be a success for other projects and figured the campaign would help assess the realistic enthusiasm for a local butcher shop in the community.

“The Kickstarter was a good way to test the market and see if Bellingham was going to put their money where their mouth is so to speak,” Johnson said. “I was overwhelmed with the response.”

Carne raised $17,500, which, as Johnson said, is crazy. “So many people were excited about it,” he said. “Word has spread way faster than I could have imagined.”

Now that the shop is operational, Johnson said they can finally begin to test and fine tune their approach to the products, including different grinds and processes, such as making bacon. There are also plans to include some grocery products, such as milk, eggs, other specialty meats and eventually wine and beer.

He has been working with the Whatcom County Health Department, navigating his way through very little existing precedents for the type of business, he said. “What we are doing is totally different,” he said. “We are dealing with what works in theory versus what works in reality.”

The supply chain for meat in Whatcom County is not yet what it needs to be to sustain a local butcher shop, Johnson added. The demand for local meat products is there, however the supply from local farmers is not as built up, “but we are hoping that will happen.”

Initially, Carne is primarily sourcing their product from Northwest-based meat distributor Corfini Gourmet, which focuses on natural and sustainable meats from Washington and Oregon. Johnson’s hope is that with time 50 percent of the product sold at Carne will be directly from Whatcom County, with the major focus on quality of product above all, Johnson said.

“It will all be high quality stuff. There will also be a focus on the local aspect, but not just that,” he said. “I’m not just going to grab a cow because it is available. We need quality.”

Johnson said he plans to work with local farmers whenever possible, including Farmer Ben’s, Growing Washington and Brittle Barn. The shop has offered products like ground beef, pork, chickens and rabbits, and Johnson recently cut a full berkshire pig from Farmer Ben’s during a demonstration for customers. (Farmers interested in selling to the shop can contact him directly.)

With the doors now open, Johnson said he can begin the process of actual day-to-day work as well as plans for the future.

“We will grow as business grows,” Johnson said. “We will get more equipment, but want to stay as old school as possible. We have got big plans.”

Johnson has been in and out of Bellingham since 1999, and is originally from Burlington. His wife Anna played an important role in the process of opening Carne, he said. They have three children, Jackson, 7, Casey, 5, and Ira, 2.

Having lived in Atlanta for a few years, he became familiar with the BBQ culture of the south where you have to show up at 10 a.m. if you want to get ribs for lunch that day before they are sold out. He is hoping to bring an aspect of that culture to the area, complete with the reality of running out of product and customers learning to show up early if they want certain cuts of meat.

“We are going to run out of things and I am okay with that,” Johnson said. “If we can get a cow, we will need to sell through the whole cow before we get another.”

For more information, visit Carne at 902 N. State Street in Bellingham or find them online at carnebellingham.com.

–Becca Schwarz Cole contributed to this article

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