THE NEW ICONS
New York has a meat man, and his name is Pat LaFrieda. Whether you’ve seen his name on a truck on your way to work, on television, or on so many New York menus that boast his burger blends (including the Shake Shack burger), Pat LaFrieda is everywhere. Have we mentioned he’s also a really cool guy? Yes, we know that because the man behind the meat sat down with us for a “rare” chat (we’ll be using meat puns all week). But seriously, it is rare to get this in-depth of an interview with LaFrieda, who truly is a mover and a shaker in every sense of the phrase. So much of what all New York foodies consume comes from the incredible brand that is his family business, and he’s done an amazing job of continuing the legacy. So whether you’re a carnivore, a vegetarian, a farmer, a chef, or (we must admit) just a girl looking for the flannel-wearing manly type in what sometimes seems a very metro-sexual city – this is the interview for you.
What would be your ideal food day?
I love scrambled eggs, and I make omelets almost every morning, mostly for protein. I am so anti hard boiled eggs. Like this morning, I had the ultimate goat cheese omelet and a bagel and cream cheese.
A typical lunch for me is a skirt steak, or a skirt steak sandwich.
For dinner – pasta. I’m a carb freak. I love carbs, so for dinner I need to have some type of pasta. The best pasta that I’ve ever eaten has been at Marea from Michael White and at Perla from Mike Toscano. A good pasta, followed by a meat course, which is usually lamb – a lamb chop, a lamb loin chop. I’m big into lamb burgers; I’m lamb centric.
What made you decide to cut out the middleman and work directly with restaurants?
It’s funny that you even mention middlemen because there were always middlemen in this business. When I first started with my dad, I had to buy all my meat from the 14th street meat market. Those were the middlemen. So meat would go from farms to processing facilities, which are – in other words – slaughtering facilities. Then they would go into these brokerage houses that I would have to then go into and select meat from.
When I first started with Joe and Lidia Bastianich, Lidia asked me for a lamb rack one afternoon, and I had to go to the 14th street market to get it when they were closing. The guy I normally got my lamb from was gone already, so I had to go to another company. I asked someone who I didn’t do business with for meat, and said that I was willing to pay cash, and he said “No. You don’t buy from me normally. I don’t feel like selling it to you.” So I couldn’t get her that lamb rack. In addition, I was having trouble finding great veal from what was being offered in that market. So that was in 1996, and I told my dad that there was no way we could do this anymore. We had to be direct with our farms; we had to have the control, keep the inventory in-house and do the quality control for ourselves.
Do you think all purveyors should be doing it your way?
All meat purveyors can’t do that but they should. You have to be large enough to bring in what a processing facility is going to want to ship. So in our case, a truck trailer can carry 2000 pounds of meat. We have about five or six come to us everyday now. When I first started in this business, we would do maybe one half of a truck trailer a week. You demand product directly from a manufacturing company because you just don’t have the volume when you’re that small. So we grew slowly and we grew into it, and then we were able to meet those minimum requirements.
Are you selective at all in deciding what restaurants you work with?
We are. But we want to be able to serve any restaurant. We’re honored if a restaurant wants to serve our meat, so the biggest hurdle in our business is credit. One hundred percent of everything that leaves here goes out on credit, meaning we’re not getting paid for that meat. So, we’re selective in the fact that we have to run their credit and make sure they have the ability to pay – that they’re sustainable financially; that’s the biggest hurdle. If you speak to anyone in my business – on my end of it – we’re always worried about getting paid. And every year we have to write off hundreds of thousands of dollars that are un-collectable. Those restaurants go out of business, they just can’t pay or they file for bankruptcy.
If a restaurant just opened do you worry about what they can do financially?
I’m never as worried about new restaurants because restaurateurs understand that they need enough money to open a restaurant that doesn’t make a profit for a year. We also certify that that’s possible by knowing who the players are and who the investors are. That’s how we try to figure it out. If we find or feel that a chef is opening up a new restaurant and not taking finances into consideration, we’re not going to sell to them.