Wendell Allsbrook, owner of the Georgetown Butcher shop located in the Northwest neighborhood that bears its name, operates one of the few Black-owned enterprises of its kind in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and looks forward to its development as the coronavirus pandemic appears to wind down.
Allsbrook opened his butcher shop-deli on March 9 in the Grace Street Collective in the former Neopol Savory Smokery. He prepared to serve longtime customers from his years of working at The Organic Butcher Shop of McLean in McLean, Va., as well as new patrons. A few days later, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency in the District due to the presence of the coronavirus. Allsbrook said he didn’t panic but had to come up with a plan to remain open expeditiously.
“We had to make changes because of the pandemic,” Allsbrook said. “We had to set up a website quickly. When I started, I had about 8-10 employees and I had to lay off half of them. We decided to focus on delivery and fulfilling customers’ requests and having them pick up their food at the door. We had some big losses in the beginning but my loyal customers kept coming and they spread the word about my shop.”
In addition to the pandemic limiting his business, Allsbrook faced odds against his success as a start-up. In a Feb. 3 article, CNBC reported Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year of operation. Black-owned businesses such as Georgetown Butcher fare worse with eight out of 10 shuttering within the first 18 months. Allsbrook spoke of his awareness of the dismal statistics on Black businesses in their inaugural stages but pressed on because he passionately believes in butchery, his business skills and retaining his faithful customer base and expanding on it. Plus, he said growing up in the U Street area of the District and not attending high school taught him to be persistent in pursuit of his goals, prepare thoroughly and plan accordingly.
GEORGETOWN BUTCHER OFFERINGS
A customer has a wide range of choices at Georgetown Butcher. The Japanese A5 Wagyu beef, at $219 a pound, is the most expensive item the shop offers but there is salmon from the Scottish Highlands — $22.99 a pound — and grass-fed lamb from Australia–$28.99 a pound. Even $25 for a chicken could be considered pricey for some customers and Allsbrooks understands that.
The offerings are aimed at diners with a sensitive palate. The Japanese beef, for instance, is described by gourmands as a taste delight because of a higher fat content than common steaks.
Shane Sleighter, an Arlington resident, who said his family menu includes steak night every other month, raves about Wagyu steak as “delicious, rich and soft.”
“My customers come from Virginia and in this neighborhood,” Allsbrook said. “This is why I set up here. My customer base is in this area, not in other parts of the city.”
Additionally, Georgetown Butcher offers various types of foods such as cheeses, asparagus and seafood for non-meat eaters. In a small refrigerator located near the front of the shop, organic orange juice and eggs are stocked along with lemons and limes.
Allsbrook said he plans to expand his operations further north on Wisconsin Avenue.
“Where I am at right now, I operate a butcher shop and a deli but at the new location, it will be just a butcher shop,” he said. “I am planning to open up the new shop in October.”
How does he respond to vegetarian critics?
“I don’t have anything against vegetarians, “ he said. “I don’t offer a wide range of vegetables. But I am looking at selling veggie patties.
Skyler Lewis, a software engineer, has become a regular Georgetown Butcher customer and speaks highly of the establishment and Allsbrook.
“They have fantastic food and the quality is much higher than what is offered at the grocery store,” Lewis, who lives in Georgetown, said. “I also like the family experience here. You feel comfortable coming in here and Wendell and his staff make you feel like family.”
Lewis said he purchases ribeye steaks but also buys duck and ribs. He said the staff has given him “excellent recipes to prepare meats.”
Lewis, who is Black, said he feels pride in Allsbrook’s success.
“He is an African American butcher here in Georgetown, operating a Black business,” he said. “To me, that is exciting and awesome. That does a lot for this area.”