“Any butcher shop is a community center,” says Brent Young, one of the owners of The Meat Hook on 397 Graham Avenue.
Historically, NYC butcher shops, especially in North Brooklyn, had strong immigrant roots. A profusion of Polish butcher shops populated Bedford Avenue north of North 7th and west Manhattan Ave., the Italian butcher shops on Graham, Meeker, and Metropolitan Aves., as well as Latin American and Orthodox Jewish meat shops in the community served and serve as a place to connect and build community through a common culture. During the passing of time many of these shops have moved on to the real estate of memory.
The Meat Hook will celebrate its tenth anniversary this November. From the start, Brent Young along with co-owner Ben Turley have found sincere and inventive ways to build community through their shop. “It truly is a community hub, I can’t walk in there without having an hour long conversation with neighbors, which is awesome,” said Young.
One of those neighbors is Frank Citera whose wife owns Yolanda’s Lady Salon, a neighborhood anchor. Frank who is a long time member of the Conselyea Street Block Association (CSBA) Board of Directors which oversees Small World Early Childhood and Swinging Sixties Senior Centers. Frank sensed Brent Young’s appreciation of community and invited him to join the CSBA board. Turns out these instincts were correct, “Brent is very, very helpful, especially with the bocce tournament. He’s always there for us,” said Citera.
Understanding and empathy are essential for developing a lasting connection. “It’s pretty darn intimidating to walk into a butcher shop,” Young states. To neutralize that obstacle members of team Meat Hook are super friendly, openly welcome any questions, and actively cultivate a bond of trust with their clientele. The backbone of that trust is strengthened by Young’s and Turley’s dedication to know their farmers and be able to control each part of the line from farm to sale. This way the Meat Hook can verify the holistic quality of their meats. Even the seasonal produce in the store is organic and sourced as local as possible; one of their suppliers is the Brooklyn Grange.
They picked farmers by visiting them to learn about their standards and see if there was an alignment with those of the Meat Hook. They have an affidavit for all of their pork that says each pig is allowed 2,000 square feet in their field, which is 100 times more than the usual confinement methods. All of their beef is 100% grass fed and grass finished. Young explained, “Almost anyone can say that their meat is grass fed because during the first year of an animal’s life they need to eat grass, and after that they can be moved to grain or supplement. Grass finished means no grain ever. We like to do that because we like to eliminate any grey areas in meat.” He went on to say that his holistic philosophy gives him a clear idea of what a farm would look like that matches the Meat Hook’s mission and their farmers faithfully fit that bill.
The Meat Hook’s catchphrase is “everything you want it to be” so they can speak to the specific wherefores concerning the ways the animals in the shop are raised, which demonstrate their standards can’t get any higher. Another way they’ve found to develop the community center aspect of their shop is the Summer Series, a Thursday night BBQ in the yard behind their store where neighborhood restaurants collaborate with the Meat Hook to devise a onetime only cookout menu of an entrée ($12–$14) and sides ($6–$8) for the night. This is the third summer they’ve hosted this means to make their products directly accessible and inspire their guests to try new things in different ways. For instance, if someone drops buy and wants a burger and lamb burgers happen to be the night’s entrée, this can be entry to a new flavor discovery. “It’s a way to get people in the neighborhood engaged. Hang out with one another, meet another neighbor, and try some different food,” said Young.
Another way team Meat Hook engages with the community is through their support of Swinging Sixties Senior Center and St. Nicks Alliance. Young was on the CSBA board when an anonymous benefactor contributed funds to enable St. Nicks Alliance and CSBA to purchase a senior bus. The seniors love the bus, as it has enabled a significant number of mobility impaired seniors to join Swinging Sixties. However, in 2017 CSBA and St. Nicks Alliance had to find a way to pay for its operation. The idea of a bocce tournament was pitched, and Young led the charge to field a competitive team in the first annual Bocce for Senior Bus tournament. Young invited his friend Joe Franquinha of Crest Hardware to participate and the friendliest of team rivalries began. Team Crest won in 2017 only to have the Meat Hook’s victory over Crest give them the 2018 tournament title. In 2019, Young and Franquinha with CSBA board members Frank Citera, Phil Caponegro, and Mary Ciorciari were successful in securing over a dozen teams to participate in this year’s tournament. The first round took place at Domino Park’s two bocce courts and the finals were held at Swinging Sixties Senior Center’s bocce court. The tournament raised over $10K for the senior bus. 2019’s trophy went to the Crest Hardware team. “Our strategy is to build Crest up, just to break them down!” said Brent Young with friendly mischievous glee. In the process they are helping to reinvigorate a cultural tradition to the Italian heart of the neighborhood.
Regardless of this year’s bocce loss, sausage success is on the horizon for the Meat Hook. Their newest venture is their sausage company, which maintains their holistic farm to table principles and will bring a variety of sausages to grocery stores. Labor Day marks the launch of their sausages in all thirteen Whole Foods in NYC.