Lobel's is one of Manhattan's premiere butcher shops, famous for offering the best dry-aged USDA prime meat and the kind of personal service that was common when the shop opened five generations ago. When you walk into Lobel's, which is on Madison Avenue, you're in a New York where butchers greet you by name, ask about your family, and have your favorite cuts on the chopping block before you can say "organic." This is even more specialized than a place like Whole Foods ( WFMI).If you're outside Manhattan, fret not! Lobel's is as serious about business as it is about dry aging, and offers a
People who walk in who don't know what they want make up about 25% of customers, but they will know after speaking with us. Most people think about it before they come in, because it can be intimidating. We're six big men behind the counter. How do you put a customer at ease?
The first thing you do is to just give a genuine smile. In the age of the megastores, and workers being disenchanted, a smile goes a really long way. Another thing is there are no stupid questions at all. We're here to not only offer the finest product, but to educate as well. It should be comfortable and positive, not intimidating. What is the most extravagant purchase made at Lobel's?
I would say the most extravagant cuts are the Wagyu cuts. But we offer crowns of veal, pork, lamb. We offer noisettes of lamb; just the center portion of the loin, denuded, defatted, deveined. Ounce for ounce, it's very expensive because there's a lot of waste; when it's broken down to just the eye it becomes costly and extravagant.
The hangar steak and prime skirt steaks are fabulous. Great value would be tenderloin tails; you get the same flavor without the shape. What's the most surprising request?
I guess I'm always surprised by the requests for organ meat. We get calls for calves' brains. ... I'm not as surprised by veal sweetbreads. We get requests lately for fresh pork belly -- people will smoke their own bacon or cook it low and slow until it turns to butter. Cheeks. And I've had requests for snake. Can you fill that request?
Yeah, why not. What is Kurobuta pork?
It's pork the way our parents experienced it. Over the years, pork has become "the other white meat," and the flavor was kind of washed out through all the processing. Kurobuta pork is the Japanese term for black pig. It's 100% pure Berkshire. It is darker, has more marbling, is robust, juicy, flavorful and natural. What's an important trend in meat right now?
Well, people are more concerned with what food they put in their body. I think that trend is here to stay. We see a lot of people that ask for organic, and once they taste it, they don't want organic. Others have a more esoteric experience, where they're eating more with their mind than their stomach, and they like the organic.
Then they go to
|Natural Prime Filet Mignon|
Filet mignon and strip steak. Your literature says that dry aging is the difference between a good and great piece of meat. What does that mean?
What dry aging does is break down fibers and enzymes in the meat, allowing moisture to draw out and the flavor to come through. It's like when you have fruit on the vine -- if it's picked too fast, it's under-ripe. If it's on the vine too long, it becomes overripe. We age our meat to the perfect ripeness so it's the best that it can be. People don't realize that the more moist the steak, the tougher it will be. Water boils faster than the flesh. If you cook a steak that has too much moisture, you won't get the sear you're looking for. You get a grayness, because the water comes out first and steams the meat. If it's dry and the moisture is not there, you get the sear right away. Also, I enjoy the nuttiness that dry aging is going to give a piece of meat. Who's shopping for meat these days? Men or women?
I see a trend of men doing more of the ordering. Men are getting much more involved in the kitchen, and the meal planning and the cooking. But women are still doing more of the day-to-day ordering The company's Web and mail-order business began in 2001. What percentage of your sales are online today?
We have many more customers online. I'd say 60%. Outside of New York, where are people eating Lobel's?
We ship across the country and to Hawaii and Alaska. We have many customers that will come to the store, fill up their suitcase or golf bag with steaks, and take it to Hong Kong, Spain or England; they want to take the chance. A lot of our customers are able to do it successfully. We have a huge fan base from Hong Kong.