Feature: Nate Abeyta
Well, this is definitely not what I was expecting for my first go ’round. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I know that Nate Abeyta of Deep Cuts in Dallas was not it.
Back it up a minute, though. If I’m being honest, I don’t actually know any meat cutters personally. In fact, I don’t even know anything about meat cutting. Let’s put it this way: if I were to be chosen to play “Know Your Cuts Of Meat” on David Letterman, I’m quite sure I would wind up embarrassing myself worse than I do when I sing “Baby Got Back” on karaoke night. What I do know, however, is that it’s a craft. It’s an art. It’s a trade. And, I know that I’d just about sell off my husband do anything to have a meat market in my tiny Texas town.
I mean, is anyone else out there nostalgic like me? Does anyone else think it would be so badass to walk in to an old school butcher shop with salami hanging all over the place, have your butcher call you by name, and cut you the most beautiful cut of meat right in front of you? Did any other little girl tell her mom she wanted to be a butcher when she grew up? Seriously, y’all. No joke. There are only two things I ever said I wanted to be when I grew up: an archeologist and a butcher.
Anyhow, I knew I respected the trade. I knew meat cutters would be passionate. I did not know meat cutters would be this passionate. Y’all, meet Nate.
My visit with Nate was set up via telephone. We’d never met. I arrived first. Thirty seconds later, in walks this long haired fella with his red & white striped button down, manicured facial hair, and dark rimmed glasses. If I hadn’t previously stalked him on Facebook, it would have been an incredibly awkward situation. I would have never picked this guy to be a butcher. (And, yes, Nate, I just admitted to Facebook stalking you even though I was trying to ooze ultra professionalism and maturity during our interview. Oh well.)
So, Nate’s story is pretty crazy. And, I’m going to do my best to tell it accurately. The following is pretty much how it went to the best of my recollection. (He talks fast, y’all!)
Nate: I moved from California to Texas at age twelve. I was a nerd; a book nerd and Pokemon nerd specifically. I got a degree in English and then a Master’s Degree in Linguistics.
Me (in my head): Like, seriously? Seriously, Nate? You had to go and tell me right off the bat that you have a Master’s in Linguistics? No pressure on me or anything.
Nate: I was working as a writer, and I realized no one was reading this stuff, right? And, I had an education background. But, I needed to make a living. So, I went into Hirsch’s Specialty Meats in Plano and asked them to give me a job.
He says this so nonchalantly, matter of factly, and keeps on trucking through his history.
Me: Wait. Back it up. You just walked into a butcher shop and asked for a job? Why? Why did you choose a meat market? What drew you to it?
Nate: Oh. They’d offered me a job before I went to college.
Me: (in my head): <sarcasm> Ah. Okay. Makes total sense now. </sarcasm>
At this point, I’ve got a billion questions, but he’s powering through. I just want to know why or what appealed to him about meat cutting? Was it truly just a willy nilly career move simply because he was frustrated with writing and education, or was there something in him that drew him to this specific profession? I never got to ask those questions. However, I know beyond all shadow of a doubt that if Nate weren’t cosmically drawn to meat cutting those many moons ago, he is now, hands down, one of the most passionate folks I’ve ever met in regards to their craft.
On with the story. Hirsch’s essentially served as his apprenticeship. He acquired his basic skill set there. He tells me, “when the other guys would get done with their tasks for the day, they’d go home. But, when I got done, I had to go after more knowledge. I forced my way in. I’d go stand beside Gary and just watch. Eventually, he softened up and started to teach me. I was inspired by the pride with which they worked. They had a purpose.”
I kind of love that, personally. A knowledge seeker impresses me. Gumption impresses me. But, alas, this is not about me being impressed.
“Can you remember a defining moment when you just knew you were in love with the craft?” I ask.
He sits silent a moment. I can tell he is trying to slow down his brain. Finally he answers, “I remember saying, ‘holy shit, I made this’ about my sausage.” And, I guess the rest is history.
Fast forward to July 2016. Here I sit with this fella only a block from his under construction new meat market. Here is a man that devoted a season of his life to English, Linguistics, and writing. And, yet, he did not find fulfillment in that. His satisfaction and pride and passion and joy lies in the art of cutting meat and all that entails.
Yes, for Nate (and I imagine for most meat cutters), this is not just about wielding a knife and producing an exceptional cut of meat. It’s not even about being able to break down a carcass the fastest. It’s not about a paycheck or even giving a customer exactly what they think they want. What is it about, then? At least for Nate, it’s about responsibility. I think that word pretty much sums it up, and I think, for him, it’s threefold.
“It’s all about standards and sanitation,” he tells me. “There’s a way to do things, and there’s a way to do it right. People are dying because of handling.”
Y’all, I can’t even count how many times I heard the word “sanitation” during this conversation. He’s the real deal. It’s not lip service. And, I know that because every time he’d start talking about sanitation and cleanliness, he’d start talking a million miles a minute. He became more animated and focused. This man has some serious passion.
Though it seems to be tops on the list, sanitation is not the only thing Nate is passionate about. He goes on to say, “The life of an animal is a true sacrifice. Use the bones; use the fat. It all matters.” He tells me that “back fat makes awesome sausage. And, pork cheek can be used to make Guanciale.”
I’m thinking, “Hold up. Let’s put this in laymen’s terms, mmkay?” I don’t verbalize that. Instead, I pull out my professional voice and say, “I’m not familiar with that. Can you tell me about it?”
Essentially, he says it’s a cured meat similar to bacon. With a little research, I’ve now discovered that it has a greater depth of flavor, as well. Say wha?!? A greater depth of flavor than bacon?!? How can this be? But, I’m getting way off track here. My mind went to bacon. Sorry. I’ll rein it back in.
Okay, so, we’ve established that he feels a great sense of responsibility to the highest standards of sanitation as well as to the life of an animal. I appreciate those things immensely, obviously. But, I would hopefully be able to expect those things from my butcher. But, there was a third theme that was heavily woven throughout our conversation.
Customer service. Duh, right? But, like I mentioned above, upon occasion, Nate has been known to not give a customer the cut of meat they want. “How is this good customer service, you say?” Well, lemme tell ya!
Say a customer comes in at 5pm and says they’d like a roast. Because Nate’s goal is to have meaningful interactions with his customers, he finds out that said customer is planning to have pot roast for dinner tonight. Tonight. (Note to the reader: Not everyone has as much sense as you and I. While we know the roast is gonna be tough as all get out after being cooked on high for a short period of time, others do not know this. Let’s try to reserve our judgements. Deal?) Anyhow, guess what. Nate will steer this customer to a different cut of meat that is better suited to their time frame. Maybe this is totally normal with meat cutters? Is it? Because, I live in a tiny town with a single grocery store sans meat cutter, and I’ve never had this experience.
Beyond that simple yet intentional act, Nate seeks to educate his customers because “an educated customer is an empowered customer.” He hopes to offer cooking classes and basic meat cutting classes to his community. Additionally, as a man that lost 95 pounds years ago and has kept it off, he hopes to promote a healthy living lifestyle amongst his customers. Again, I personally think that is above and beyond the call of typical customer service. (Nate, can you just go ahead and open a second butcher shop in my town? Pretty please?)
So, how can you become one of Nate’s super lucky customers? I’d suggest hittin’ up Deep Cuts grand opening on August 20th at 7989 Belt Line Road in Dallas. Jack FM will be there. Vendors will be there. And, Nate will be there. Does it get much better than that? I can only think of one way: Guanciale.
Nate and his business partners Deena Ellis and Wendy Wolfe.
Deep Cuts | Dallas, TX
The Nitty Gritty
YEARS IN MEAT CUTTING: “I’ve been processing small game since I was young and working in retail since 2008.”
FAVORITE TOOL OF THE TRADE: 6″ Boning Knife
BATTLE SCARS: “Nothing crazy; few stitches here and there on my left hand/fingers from sloppy work, but nothing’s major!”
FAVORITE CUT OF MEAT: Country Style Pork Ribs
DO YOU LIKE TO COOK? 3 meals per day with Deena (business partner and girlfriend); he cooks the meat, and she cooks the veggies.
EVER HEARD OF DAVID LETTERMAN’S “KNOW YOUR CUTS OF MEAT”? No
WHAT I LOVE MOST ABOUT NATE: His passion. And his love of succulents!