San Diego-based Chef Steve Brown can now add “butcher” to his resume.
A year ago, Brown was in the beginning stages of opening CosechaSD’s TDR (also known as The Dining Room), San Diego’s first tasting menu-only restaurant, slated to open by the end of 2019.
Narrowing down the right location and touring around the country as part of his Wagyu Tour, inspired by Japan’s A5 Satsuma wagyu beef, delayed the opening by a few weeks and into the early part of this year.
And then, in mid-March, COVID-19 hit.
Pivot, And Pivot Again
Brown quickly pivoted to a fast-food kitchen called Nitros. But, after a few weeks of meek sales, was discouraged. Shortly after and at the behest of a friend, he stumbled upon a business model that quickly proved to be worth his consideration – selling cuts of wagyu beef.
Within 24 hours, Brown sold three times his $10,000-worth of wagyu beef inventory via his social media accounts, he said.
Now, he is scheduled to open his new wagyu beef butcher shop, Swagyu Chop Shop, in Imperial Beach in just a few weeks. And, he is certain his butcher business will double once the brick-and-mortar is open.
Back to Roots
“I cut up a few steaks, vacuum-packed them and put pictures up on my Facebook and Instagram pages,” said Brown, who said he deals directly with importers from Japan and is one of roughly 25 certified wagyu beef chefs in the United States. “Now, people are driving down from Malibu, from all over California, and even from Arizona to pick up steaks. I would have never thought of doing this before – the butcher shop industry has been dead since like the 1970s. But the silver lining of coronavirus is that people are getting back to their roots.”
Brown said he will carry authentic Japanese wagyu, as well American and Australian wagyu, that will cost between $20 and $200 a piece. He will also serve one food item at the butchery, the wagyu burger with Nitros potatoes, the latter which are twice frozen in liquid nitrogen then fried.
Much like the restaurant industry, the butcher industry is very much impacted by major holidays, said Brown. So, while he could make roughly $7,000 on a non-peak week, he could easily see $20,000 another week based on a national holiday like July 4 or Memorial Day.
Simultaneously, and inspired by the rapid success of the butcher business, Brown recently refocused his energy on his original concept: TDR.
As of three weeks ago, the tasting menu-driven eatery, located on the second floor of the CosechaSD kitchen in Imperial Beach, has been running and doing great, said Brown. He said, so far, it has hosted a handful of group dinners, between 8-16 guests only. Diners have an option of nine course, 16 course or 22 course dinners, with the prices ranging from $150/person to $300/person, he said.
“Our concept kind of works perfect for COVID,” said Brown. “Normally, we sell individual tickets. But, now, we are only booking private parties. We have our own sprinter van that we use to pick up the party at one location. We drive them down and them back afterwards. So, there is no cross contamination and we fully sterilize the place between uses. We run like a restaurant but are sold like a private event.”