MYSTIC — Have you ever dined in a butcher shop?
Grass & Bone, located at 24 E. Main St., is part of a new breed of hybrid restaurant-butcheries where the menu includes cooked beef, pork and chicken and customers can also purchase raw cuts of meat to cook at home.
Bringing the two concepts together came naturally for Dan Meiser, co-owner of the establishment, who said he wanted to make high-quality, locally-sourced meat available to the public in a casual environment. With James Wayman, Meiser is also co-owner of the Oyster Club and the Engine Room restaurants, also in Mystic.
“I think there’s beauty in simplicity,” Meiser, 39, said Friday. “What we’re offering is on par from a product standpoint and a service standpoint of what we do at our other restaurants, but it’s denser, it’s fast, it’s casual, we don’t take reservations; it’s counter service, it’s honest food,” he said. “We also knew we wanted to open up a butcher shop early on because we knew we wanted to do our own cutting, have our own charcuterie and dry aging program, but also to make local meat available to the public.”
Using Grass & Bone as a centralized butchery for his three restaurants, Meiser is meticulous about using locally-sourced, pasture-raised animals and birds. He said he procures one and a half to two steers per week from farms like Beriah Lewis Farm in North Stonington, as well as pigs from Wequetequock Farm in Stonington, and certified organic eggs from Wild Harmony Farm in Exeter, Rhode Island.
“This for us was the ability to cut for ourselves at the restaurant, consolidate that labor, but most importantly have a retail space where people can come in seven days a week in normal business hours and buy a beautiful piece of pork or a beautifully raised local bird,” he said. “That’s crucial and that part is getting really positive feedback; people love to come in and talk to our butcher and to have that relationship.”
According to Bloomberg, Americans will eat a record 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry per person in 2018, but Meiser said eating meat should be an experience about quality more than quantity.
“We want that meat experience to be special, something that is savored and really, truly enjoyed,” he said. “And what we give you for that experience is going to be as good as it gets.”
The concept has already caught on. Since opening Labor Day weekend, 45 percent of the eatery’s business is from repeat customers, Meiser said.
“We’ll have people that will come in four or five times in a week and get the same thing because they just love it so much,” he said. “For length of the experience, it’s on par with fast food but we’re talking about locally-sourced meats, locally-made artisan breads and cheeses and locally-grown produce.”
Meiser’s passion for food can be traced to his childhood and teen years in Manchester, Conn.
“I was someone who grew up hunting and fishing so I learned from a young age basic butchery and field dressing and things like that,” he said. “And my first job all through high school and into college was in a butcher shop — that seemed like a great opportunity and I ended up loving it.”
Meiser went to Bucknell University and almost went to law school, but still wanted to cook professionally. He got a job as a prep cook, worked his way up to the cooking line and eventually went to the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. After working in several high-end New York restaurants, Meiser helped open the Ocean House Restaurant in 2009 and decided to stay in the area, opening the Oyster Club in 2011.
In terms of prices, Meiser said Grass & Bone is about the same as other outlets selling organically-raised meats, and he has no intention to compete with grocery store prices because the products are completely different.
“Our prices are very fair and competitive for what it is, but there is no question that we can never compete, and never want to compete, with commodity pork and beef,” he said. “The idea that a pork chop is a pork chop is a pork chop is insane, it’s not true at all; I would make the argument til the day I die: Spend the extra money, eat it less often and make it count and really, truly enjoy it because I can promise you that if you have pork chop from Harmony Farm you’ll never eat store-bought pork again.”
Buying food for the three restaurants is also an important part of the local food economy, he said.
“Last year, between the three restaurants, we purchased over a million dollars of local product — that’s local bread, cheeses, vegetables, meat, fish — that has a real impact on the local economy and we’re proud as hell to say that,” he said. “That’s up there with every accolade we’ve ever won; it’s even more important because we’re part of this bigger picture.”
Meiser, who also owns Stone Acres Farm with his wife, Jane Simmons Meiser, said his next venture is likely a farm-to-table restaurant in the barn.
“We’d be sourcing almost exclusively from the property,” he said. “It would be very, very seasonal.”