Sunday, September 03, 2000

Carving out a niche

Springboro butcher's knowledge, quality keeps customers coming back

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Greg Jardine describes himself as “fascinated by food,” but meat is his bread and butter.

[photo] Greg Jardine holds a whole smoked chicken, cooked in his own smoker at his meat shop in Springboro.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Mr. Jardine, owner of Greg's Prime Meats in Springboro, knows about every edible part of hoofed or winged animals. He can debate the advantages of one cut over another, but it's his sense of culinary adventure, as well as the quality of his product, that keeps folks coming back.

        “Do you like sausage? Taste this smoked chicken andouille,” he urged several customers, describing the marriage of Cajun sausage seasonings and chicken breast meat and then the mesquite smoking process.

        While Mr. Jardine is zealous about what he does, he did not set out to create a career among the carnivores. His former father-in-law was a butcher and enjoyed his trade so much that he inspired the younger man to take up the cleaver. Then, in 1978, Mr. Jardine bought his father-in-law's business north of Lebanon.

        With the advice and guidance of a few old-time butchers, Mr. Jardine began to carve out his niche.

  • Where: Greg's Prime Meats is at 230 W. Central Ave. (Ohio 73) in Springboro.
  • When: Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays and Thursdays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. The shop is closed Wednesdays.
  • Information: (513) 748-1800.
        “I was very fortunate to work with some of the old masters. These were guys that had been in the business 30, 40 years,” he said.

        Under their tutelage, Mr. Jardine sharpened his butchering technique as well as his business skills. In 1989, he moved Greg's Prime Meats to Springboro, where for 11 years he ground his beef and boned his chicken breasts in the Springboro Pointe Shopping Center. He also began to see changes in his customers' buying and eating habits, influenced by an increasing number of working mothers and the warnings of health professionals about a diet high in fats and red meats.

        Gradually, Mr. Jardine began to create convenience items such as stuffed chicken, smoked ribs or marinated meats. He pondered ways to reduce fat and retain flavor.

        Inspired by the possibility of making sausage from chicken, he floated the idea with one of his mentors, a German immigrant whose sausage approached an art form.

        “I can't repeat what he said, but he made it clear that sausage was pork,” Mr. Jardine recalled with a laugh.

        But when the younger man explained that many people were shying away from pork sausage for health reasons, the old butcher admitted that maybe the concept of chicken sausage was workable, and the two collaborated on finding just the right balance of seasonings to meat. The result is a variety of chicken sausages such as chorizo, andouille and bratwurst that have proved very popular with the shop's customers.

        In January, Greg's Prime Meats moved to a new, larger retail space across the highway. The relocation has allowed him to extend the range of his products and install an indoor smoker, which is ready to be hooked up. Mr. Jardine can hardly wait to start turning out the pulled pork.

        In a trade that's dying as American shopping and eating habits change, this entrepreneur is watching trends, anticipating customer demand, and growing his profits. In the venture's past 11 years, its owner estimates that his business has at least tripled.

        “We're always looking to expand,” he said, “but I'm first and foremost a butcher. I will not turn this into a sandwich shop.”

        Like any good entrepreneur, Mr. Jardine believes in testing the limits of his vision. And while he's rejected the idea of sandwiches and dining, he is moving into the prepared-meal market with ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat gourmet specialties. He knows that customers' palates are sophisticated, but their food preparation time is dwindling.

        “Twenty years ago, people bought sides of beef for the freezer. Today, those sales are down 90 percent. That's not the way people buy any more. We've seen a huge increase in value-added meat products. Those sales are up 99 percent,” Mr. Jardine said.

        His wife, Lisa, works full time in the shop's kitchen, developing recipes and turning out quantities of salads, casseroles and side dishes.

        “My lasagne just flies out of here,” she said, fitting lids on the aluminum noodle dish containers and applying labels. “I make up a big batch of chicken salad each morning and at the end of the day, it's gone.”

        Like her husband, Mrs. Jardine enjoys researching food and developing her own recipes.

        “We have a good clientele,” she said. “People in Springboro appreciate quality. Right now, I'm experimenting with our hot case menu. We want to offer things that would take a little bit too much time for our customers to fix themselves. Then we want to expand to dinner parties. People can give me their menu, and I'll cook it for them.”

        Mr. Jardine has proved he's also open to new menu items.

        “You have to be aware of what customers want. I always tell them, "If you've got an idea, lay it on us.'”

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