Commentary: Everything there is to know

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It must be nice to operate a business in New York City, the self-proclaimed “media capital of the world.”

How else to explain the over-the-top PR campaign surrounding a solid, well-run meat purveying business that is billing itself as the greatest thing since boxed beef?

The media blitz began this week with the announcement that “the most famous meat purveyor in the country” is publishing a (ghostwritten) cookbook, which—not surprisingly, given his status—is modestly titled, “Meat: Everything There Is to Know.”

But wait: This is no ordinary cookbook containing everything there is to know about meat. Oh, no.

“This is more than a cookbook; it’s a journey focused around what my family has built its name and reputation on for the past century,” stated the purveyor in question, Mr. Pat LaFrieda, who apparently offered that bon mot while talking to his publicity agent. “This book will give you the confidence to select, purchase, butcher and cook any kind of meat.”

Really? Lion meat? Kangaroo? Alligator?

Suffice to say that the country’s most famous purveyor isn’t gonna give it all up in a press release. You want the confidence to butcher and cook any kind of meat? You want the glory? You gotta buy the story.

Not only that, but the author isn’t just some high-profile purveyor. According to his publisher’s promo, “He has been hailed by New York magazine as the ‘King of Meat,’ the mastermind behind countless iconic burgers made famous at restaurants across the country.”

And when New York media anoints you not just “most famous” but the reigning King of Meat, well, let’s just say that “mastermind” is only the starting point.

Here’s how the breathless business bio of LaFrieda’s modestly named company—Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors—begins:

“In 1922, Anthony LaFrieda and his five sons opened a butcher shop in Brooklyn. By the 1950s, the brothers begin servicing restaurants from a shop in New York City’s meatpacking district.”

You’ve heard the next part of the backstory before: “The shop was on the second floor of a building with no elevator, so they had to carry 200-pound saddles of beef on their backs up a flight of stairs.”

In the dark, through bitter winter blizzards and summer heat waves, 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

Okay, fast forward to the 1980s, with the company now settled into a much larger facility on a street that would eventually be renamed—wait for it—Pat LaFrieda Lane, where the current Pat (grandson of one of the original brothers) showed “the same passion and talent for butchery that his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father had before him.”

Not only that, but young Pat combined his work ethic with “a new vision that would shape the future of the company.”

And what was this grand vision, you ask? According to the official company legend, “We would work directly with restaurants to ensure that they are getting the best possible product cut and portioned exactly to their specifications. We would help our customers develop products that showcase their creativity as chefs. We would operate as if their customers are our own.”

Wow. Talk about a novel approach: Customer service. Orders tailored to what buyers actually want. Treating the businesses that pay your bills as something more than mere accounts receivable.

Who knew?

Reality TV, here we come

Now, I’m not knocking anyone’s success, nor complaining if somebody wants to proclaim himself king of an entire industry, even though he specializes in the tiny but lucrative niche of dry-aged Prime beef. Whether that’s appropriate will be judged by those who are actually in the business, not me.

And I have to admit that many non-fiction titles—if not the majority—these days are way over the top. Heck, you could publish an entire collection of books, kind of like the “For Dummies” series, each one titled, “Everything There Is to Know About [fill in the blank],” and no one would so much as snicker.

One thing that is eye-opening though: I realize Mr. LaFrieda’s operation is based in the Big Apple, but his product line—whew! Talk about big-city prices.

For example: Check out the featured Grilltopia Package. You get four 14-oz. ribeye steaks, 1.5 lbs. of Original Burgers and 1 lb. of Pat LaFrieda Hot Dogs. Total: 6 lbs. of product for a cool $149 bucks, or about $25 a pound.

Plus shipping.

Or maybe you want to step up to the Dry-Aged Burger Blend. If so, you can order three full pounds of those ground beef patties for a mere $60. C’mon. Twenty bucks a pound. It’s a steal.

Now, I’m sure the Burger Blend is quite tasty, but its catalog blurb reminds me of the marketing for imported French wines priced at $150 (and up) a bottle. Which may seem like a good deal (if you’ve got that kind of dough to throw around)—until you find out that somebody ran a blind taste test against $10 bottles of California red, and most so-called vinophiles couldn’t tell the difference.

One more thing: While you’re pre-ordering the one book that will tell you everything you need to know about meat, set aside some quality couch time for The Food Network debut of “Meat Men,” a reality show that “Follows Mr. LaFrieda, his father, Pat LaFrieda, Sr., and his cousin Mark Pastore through their daily work, meeting with the most famous chefs around in the most sought-after restaurants.”

Honestly, that doesn’t really come across like a land-locked version of “Deadliest Catch” or anything, but I suppose there’s some drama in watching guys haggling over prices, arguing over menu additions, or maybe starting a fistfight or two when the delivery truck shows up late for a big banquet event.

All in a day’s work for the King of Meat.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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