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Beck & Bulow quickly made a name for itself with meat distribution to 250 restaurants in Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Owners Tony Beck and J.P. Bulow specialize in exotic meats, including bison, elk and wild boar, but they also offer beef, pork, lamb and poultry. They even carry wild-caught seafood from Alaska.
Their business model changed nearly overnight in March as the coronavirus sidelined a huge share of restaurant and catering businesses, just short of two years since they opened their distribution operation on Jorgensen Lane in May 2018.
Beck & Bulow still distributes to about 50 restaurants, but it hasn't been sitting idle. The owners reinvented the business on the fly as they watched the new normal unfold in March, April and May.
"We increased our online business dramatically," company CEO Beck said. "We had nothing or very little online [before the pandemic]."
Chief Operating Officer Bulow said online sales now make up 20 percent of their business.
"We ship to Alaska and Hawaii," Bulow said.
"We send tons to Florida," Beck added. "I see down the road, online, it's going to dwarf everything else."
Then Santa Fe residents started showing up at the warehouse as empty supermarket shelves and coolers greeted shoppers in the second half of March. They heard about Beck & Bulow. They wanted to buy meat.
"People were just coming in," Beck recalled. "This was strictly a warehouse. Word just got out. People were just filling up their freezers."
The duo set up a pair of reach-in freezers in the sparse entryway to serve as a retail space. The idea was planted.
"I sort of wanted to do a butcher shop," Beck said. "You could say the writing was on the wall. Some part of me prefers retail over the restaurants."
In June, Beck and Bulow started looking for commercial space for a butcher shop with retail and manufacturing. They first looked near Trader Joe's and then near Chipotle Mexican Grill before settling on the former Tandy Leather Co. space at 1934 Cerrillos Road.
The butcher shop is expected to open in the second half of January.
It will carry a variety of cuts of buffalo, beef, elk, wild boar, lamb from New Zealand, and pork and poultry from Colorado. This will include dry-aged beef and sausage.
Previously, Beck & Bulow contracted with other butchers to cut its meat. With the Cerrillos Road shop, it will start doing its own butchering in the rear of the building. Beck & Bulow in December was awarded a $41,000 Job Training Incentive Program grant from the New Mexico Economic Development Department to train six employees for the butcher shop. This includes a third-generation butcher, three butcher assistants, a warehouse person and a digital marketing person.
It also applied for $250,000 in assistance through the Local Economic Development Act from the same state agency.
The butchering capability completes the ranch-to-table cycle for Beck & Bulow.
"We are going for the entire chain," Beck said. "We raise them, we control the butchering, we control the distribution channels."
Along with all the meat offerings, the butcher shop will feature other food groups, including olive oil, caviar, artisanal cheeses, olives, specialty sausages and salamis, fresh pastas, gourmet honeys and high-end beverages.
"My goal here is to just feed New Mexico," Bulow said. "I don't want people to worry where their food is coming from and be limited in the amount of [what] they have."
Beck and Bulow raise their own buffalo and cattle on 20,000 acres south of Madrid, and they recently leased 660 acres in San Miguel County. Buffalo meat makes up 60 percent of their sales.
They started Beck & Bulow as a buffalo distribution company.
"About a year into it, restaurants started asking, 'Do you have elk? Do you have boar?' " Beck said. "It was not something thought out. It just occurred. What's been really surprising to me is how much people like good quality fish."
Currently, they have king, sockeye and coho salmon, and halibut, all wild caught in Alaska.
They are not just thinking about what's inside their store, which is just east of St. Michael's Drive. Beck and Bulow decided to draw attention to the building with a pair of murals on the east and west walls by artist Sebastian Vela. One depicts buffalo and elk in an aspen grove; the other is of the Río Grande at night.
"When you drive down this road, there is this dead area," Beck said. "This adds some life."