In the era of The Lean Startup it’s no surprise that Belcampo relishes its spot on the outskirts of Silicon Beach. From the parking meters on the north side of Wilshire Blvd., the Santa Monica butcher shop’s assertive red signage and throwback panache appears to trounce its neighboring Starbucks, suggesting the frequently overlooked superiority of analog life. One gets the feeling that a lunch hour spent savoring slow-cooked, organic cuts of high-integrity meats might provide twice the fuel of a venti Cafe Americano and free wireless.
To the uninitiated, it’s important to note that the quaint market is a front. A kind of meat mullett where the business of disseminating duck breasts and ground beef gives way to a glamorous restaurant in the back. On a recent March Tuesday, we ventured in for delicious braised short rib sandwiches and brussel sprouts with chorizo and bacon. Mmmmm. Drenched in skylight, the rustic wood floors, plush burnt orange booths and thatched chairs made for a vacation vibe with a Heartland sensibility.
One of six California locations—three in Los Angeles and three in San Francisco—an optimist might call Belcampo, launched in 2012, a rapidly-growing segment of the ethically-minded sustainable food movement. At a time when most of the state’s investment dollars are being poured into ephemeral social networks, the fledgling butchery taps into its fertile lands, underscoring a new generation’s insatiable craving for groundedness.
Beyond the farm-to-table platitudes of hyperlocally sourced food, founder Anya Fernald told us she started the enterprise, which boasts a 12,000 acre ranch near Mt. Shasta in Northern California, a second in Uruguay, and an eco-lodge in Belize, because “it was an opportunity to scale a high-integrity, high-quality agriculture system to the point where it was economically viable.”
This strong business sensibility sets Belcampo, which means “beautiful pasture” in Italian, apart. Still, at the heart of Fernald’s mission is the desire to provide humane meats to customers who will feel good about buying and eating them.
“I hate that animals suffer unnecessarily to make our meat grow faster and cheaper,” she says of the broader industry. “I think that we’ve fallen into convenient habits in the industrial system. Food is cheaper as a result, but it’s also worse tasting and worse for our bodies and worst for animals and the environment. I am not ready to accept that as the status quo and say the solution is for us all to eat seitan if we care about the earth.”
Whether you dine in, grill the butcher with questions, travel to Belize, or register to attend Meat Camp (seriously, they have Meat Camp!), Belcampo is cultivating an enduring community rooted in education and bound by delectability.
“Passion around a shared interest in health and in eating good quality meat is a shared common ground among many of our restaurant and butcher shop customers,” says Fernald. “We see a lot of friendships and connections among our customers formed around that.”
Reclaiming these kinds of connections at a time when frequent, surface-level communications make us more distant from each other than ever is a simple act of transformation Belcampo is bringing back to daily existence.
“People come into our shop and chat with the butcher,” Fernald explains. “It’s a ritual every couple days that re-integrates a wonderful and human interaction into their lives.”
While the pressures of modernity encroach our sensibilities, Belcampo reminds us they don’t have dominion over our palates.
“There is a better way,” asserts Fernald, “and finding that way motivates me.”