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St. Augustine butcher bucks meat shortage, says business has never been better

The Chop Shop, a butcher shop created to support a First Coast fine dining restaurant, is now helping to save it.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Chop Shop started as a side hustle, a place for Executive Chef Brian Whittington to prep food for Preserved, his acclaimed fine dining restaurant in downtown St. Augustine.

But the meat market has become an accidental – and essential – success story.

After toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the product most impacted by the coronavirus outbreak is meat. Supply shortages have affected retailers nationwide, as meatpacking plants have closed and warehouses trimmed staff.

While shoppers hunt for beef and pork on empty grocery store shelves, Whittington’s business has never been better.

“We are drastically busier,” he told First Coast News. “We’re up 97 percent over last year, we’ve probably tripled or quadrupled our business.”

Some customers are surprised to even see the business open. “We get calls from people expecting us to shut down or not being able to keep up,” Whittington says. “In larger chain markets, people see the meat area completely out.”

In fact, just down Highway A1A, Publix and Winn-Dixie have seen periods of severe meat shortages.

“It’s kind of weird for us -- we haven’t seen any shortages at all," he said.

Because they buy direct from farms and break down large pieces of meat themselves, Whittington says, they haven’t seen the supply chain hiccups of larger stores.

The pandemic did force Preserved to close its doors, an abrupt cessation of a successful business. But the Chop Shop picked up the slack. In addition to selling high-end meats, the store now sells prepared meals and has expanded to carry other items, including wine, fresh vegetables, even cleaning supplies.

As a result, Chop Shop, created to serve Preserved, is helping to save it.   

“Never would I have thought the [restaurant] business that that was thriving doing very well would actually be saved by this business,” says Whittington. “It was kinda hard to see it then, but now we see -- it’s literally been our saving grace.”