The psychodrama surrounding a small chain of Seattle butcher shops is moving forward. Bill the Butcher (a publicly traded company, very rare for such a small enterprise) two weeks ago reached a settlement with its co-founder, the butcher William von Schneidau, who had sued J'Amy Owens (BTB's co-founder and onetime girlfriend) for breach of contract. The protracted legal wrangling had theatened to bring down the company.
Terms of the settlement are not yet public, and von Schneidau (who now operates BB Ranch, a butcher shop at the Pike Place Market) told Cornichon, "I do not wish to comment."
Meantime, Owens, a retail guru who has created stores for Starbucks, Nike and Saks Fifth Avenue, has taken over as ceo and chief financial officer of BTB. Earlier this year hired a new financial consultant, Bill Watson of Finance 500. With an avalanche of legal costs, uncertainty and bad publicity behind her, Owens feels she can finally move ahead with new stores and a national online roll-out. Watson's firm will help restructure the company's debt and find the bridge capital to move forward. "Once we get the restructuring of the company completed, and solve a few other operational issues," Watson said, "I look forward to rolling the BTB concept out with J'Amy on a national basis."
BTB has closed two of its six stores in the last few months: one in Old Bellevue and another in Madison Park that didn't have enough parking. Replacing those will be a store in Wallingford (on Stone Way) and one in Edmonds. Shops in Woodinville, Redmond, Laurelhurst and Magnolia remain open. The company's 12,000-square-foot commissary, on the other hand, is in the cross-hairs of the new sports arena planned for SODO, and will be closed. And the company's chief butcher, Michael Laroche, has resigned.
But with Watson's involvement, there are plans for a website that will allow consumers across the country to order meat from Bill the Butcher, not unlike the way one can place online orders for products from Salumi. In addition to the software, a major issue holding back interstate sales of meat is FDA inspection. Watson says the company will soon announce the involvement of a company ("an über-vendor") with significant expertise in these issues.
Transparency, the ability to identify the specific provenance of BTB's products, has been an concern for the company, especially after a critical article in The Stranger, but Owens is convinced that the most important story is that the meat comes from local ranchers and farmers."Local trumps so-called organic every time," Owens told Eater. "We know every one of our suppliers, and together we're going to change the way America eats."
The public data suggests that Owens is running out of time. There's less cash on hand than ever, and the projects she and Watson envision are costly. If Owens is right, however, there's pent-up consumer demand for healthy meat and support for locally grown food.
This post originally appeared on Crosscut.com