If the old adage of you are what you eat holds true, we should all be inspecting our groceries a little more carefully. And if you’ve been steering clear of the big grocery stores due to COVID we are right there with you. Shopping for quality meats and produce has been one of the biggest challenges facing families during lockdown life. And whether we’re wading into a fourth wave or just becoming a little less comfortable in the big-box stores it is great to have premium eats and treats at the tip of your fingers.
We had the chance to sample a delectable offering of West Side Beef’s bountiful boxes and were blown-away at the quality and convenience of their mega-offerings, which all ship straight to your door in airtight chilly box securing the goods. We also had some burning questions for the owners Matt Oliviera and Jeremy Losier.
Libby Roach– Consumers are bombarded with a myriad of social and environmental asterisks for purchasing food, particularly when it comes to buying meat. How does West Side Beef set themselves apart from their grocery counterparts?
Matt Oliviera– At West Side Beef, we only purchase from Ontario Farmers, most of which are only a couple hours outside Toronto. As you mentioned, there are a lot of different food labels used in marketing meat products, many of which can have a large grey area in how it is used. We only use certain descriptors when they are applicable. For example, grass-fed is a term that gets used quite a bit but has no regulation or laws on how it is used. Since cattle eat grass, technically all beef is grass-fed, so its use can be misleading. We only use this term when labelling our 100% grass-fed products, which means that the animal ate only grass during its life and nothing else, which in our opinion, leaves no room for uncertainty.
As for the main thing that sets us apart from the typical grocery store, I would say it is our relationships with our farmers. We know exactly where the meat comes from, and its journey along the chain to get to what you receive in its box. We know the names of our farmers, have visited the farms and can share that information with anyone who asks. If you were to ask the person manning the counter at the grocery store, it is likely that they either do not know where that meat came from, or you will receive a generalized answer.
LR– If you’re a consumer on a budget what is the most singular important thing to look for when shopping for meat?
MO– I guess if I were to pick one thing, it would be to use the less desirable cuts. Instead of choosing a prime cut like striploin or ribeye when you want a steak, instead choose a cut like flank, flat iron, or skirt. Or instead of making your dish with chicken breasts, use chicken legs. Choosing a less desirable cut will save you money without sacrificing flavour. These less expensive cuts are just as delicious, possibly even more so, especially when cooked correctly. I believe the most important thing for any consumer is to buy products that meet the standards you want to support. If all that matters to you is price, then just simply look at the price. If things like animal welfare and environmental impact are very important to you, then you should look at suppliers who meet your standards before anything else.
LR– Tell us your origin story – how did West Side Beef come about?
JL– West Side Beef Co was started by Ryan Donovan, Carl Heinrich and their buddy Kurt Krumme. Carl had been buying our meats for his restaurant Richmond Station since I started The Packing House and we have similar philosophies when it comes to agriculture and the importance of buying meat that’s raised responsibly and sustainably. Both he and Ryan were looking to move on from doing home meat delivery and wanted to concentrate on the Station. They asked me to take over and I immediately agreed. My existing infrastructure with wholesale and experience in retail butchery made it the perfect fit. I was so excited to showcase the hard work my farmers have put in directly to the general public.
LR- What is the vetting process for farmers for inclusion in your program? How important are these relationships?
MO– When considering a new farmer for our program, we will only move forward if their farming practices align with the standards we have set for our program. This is achieved by asking an initial set of extensive questions, tasting the meat, and doing multiple farm visits.
About West Side Beef
Owner and Operator, The Packing House
Jeremy went to school for Hospitality Operations at George Brown College. He has worked in the restaurant industry for many years and in 2011 started his apprenticeship at the Healthy Butcher. From there he moved to Dolce Lucano in 2012 where he worked for six years as head butcher and production manager, specializing in cured meats. Jeremy started his own business (The Packing House Inc) in 2016, providing high end meats to some of the best restaurants in the country. He acquired West Side Beef in December 2018.
Director of Operations, West Side Beef
Matt went to school for Culinary Arts at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) and was trained in the workforce at Richmond Station in downtown Toronto. While there, he had the opportunity to be the full-time butcher which became his favourite section during his time there. When the opportunity came around to be a part of West Side Beef in 2016, he said yes and has been around helping to operate it ever since.
Although we received product to sample for this post, all opinions remain 100% accurate and honest. We LOVED their product!
All photos by Libby Roach.