I grew up in the same town as both of my parents. Our town was unique in the sense that it definitely had that “small town,” Americana feel to it yet it straddled the border between the New York City borough of Queens and the greener, more suburban county of Nassau. I could see the World Trade Center from the roof of my house on a clear day, yet I lived on a quiet, tree-lined street in a home with a porch and a plot of grass.
My dad’s dad, Louis Cafarelli, or Lou as he was better known, was the local butcher in town. His shop, Texas Beef, along with his lone, local competitor, Pellegrini Meats (which is still in business), sold most of the meat that was consumed in our town for about two generations. Supermarkets hadn’t yet caught on, so, people still bought their meat at the local butcher shop – and their fish from the fish monger and had their dairy delivered. He opened his shop in the early 1950’s after about a decade and a half of perfecting his trade working for someone else. He was an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word.
When I was a kid, my mom used to take me to Grandpa Lou’s butcher shop so she could pick up fresh cuts of meat for our family’s dinner. He used to come around the counter from in back of the meat cases wearing a white shirt and pants covered by a stained white apron and give me a kiss and a fresh cut piece of bologna or ham to snack on. I still remember the smell of the shop – a mixture of raw meat and sawdust, which used to coat the floor.
I was eight years old when my Grandpa Lou passed away so, unfortunately, most of what I know about him has been recounted from family and friends. One of my favorite stories about him came from the mom of a friend I grew up with. Like my parents, she grew up in town. Her father was killed in an accident at an early age and her mom struggled to make ends meet raising her family. Her mom used to shop in my grandfather’s store but wasn’t always able purchase enough food for the family to eat. My grandfather used to fill up shopping bags with enough food for the family and used to “put it on their account.” This was his way of helping them out without making them feel like they were taking a handout or embarrassing them in front of other customers. He knew he would likely never be paid but ensuring they had enough food was his top priority. She told me “your grandfather was an amazing man and I’ll never forget his generosity…without him I’m not sure how we would have eaten.”
I feel like places like my grandfather’s butcher shop are few and far between these days. The few butcher shops that still exist in New York City tend to be ultra-premium and expensive places to shop. At Grandpa Lou's shop, top-notch service and high quality products weren't a luxury, they were fundamental to his way of doing business. Although the nature of our businesses are very different, I've learned a lot from Grandpa Lou and do my best to adhere to the same standards of pride in one’s work and respect for one’s customers as I grow Ernest Supplies. Let's hope I can do half as well as he did.
Don't forget that Father's Day is Sunday, June 16, 2013. A toolkit from Ernest Supplies makes a perfect gift.