No one associated with Mallery’s Grazin’ Meats on Route 518 in Skillman expected the roughly 1,000 people who showed up for their market’s opening day on July 21. Not owners Lynne and Mark Faille of Simply Grazin’ Organic Farm just down the road on Route 206. Not their butcher, Mike Catana. Nevertheless, the line stretched out the door and across the long expanse of the parking lot for much of the day, with people lined up for free samples of grilled chicken-vegetable kabobs made with Simply Grazin’s birds. Some, but not all, were already fans of the farm’s grass-fed meats — beef, veal, pork, and chicken (as well as eggs and hay) — produced from animals fed on certified, organically managed fields, and raised with practices that earn it the Animal Welfare Approved label. Wisely, butcher Catana made sure his meat case was stocked with plenty of ready-to-cook kabobs and other meats for purchase.
With four organic farms totaling about 2,500 acres spread out between upstate New York and Virginia, you’d think the Failles would have more than enough on their plates without a retail store, too. Up until now Simply Grazin’ meats have been available directly at the farm and are sold in markets up and down the eastern seaboard, including in many Whole Foods stores. So why their own retail shop?
“At the farm, we always wanted to sell our meat fresh, but township rules stipulate only frozen meat,” Lynne says, referring to a regulation particular to farms. Also, she admits, having customers drop in to buy meat at random times during the week wreaked havoc with the farm’s work schedule.
In addition to a custom, full-service butcher shop selling Simply Grazin’s fresh meats and eggs exclusively from its Skillman farm — as well as its hot dogs, sausages, and beef jerky — Mallery’s stocks a small selection of produce from local and area farms such as corn from Kerr’s and Muth Farm tomatoes. A few shelves hold a small selection of jarred rubs, sauces, and spices, as well as cans of Jersey Fresh tomatoes, boxes of DeCecco pasta, hot dog and hamburger rolls, and fresh baguettes.
These all play a supporting role to the star of the show: the meat case. A big window runs the length of the small store’s back wall, displaying a brightly lit, immaculate butchering operation of gleaming stainless steel. It’s the pride of butcher Mike Catana.
Catana, 30, learned his butchering skills from Larry Robinson, who was the longtime chef at Mediterra in Princeton. The two men met and worked together there, but both eventually moved on. When in 2008 Robinson opened his own Italian butcher and grocery shop, Ceriello Marketplace, in Medford, he tapped Catana. After three years, Catana, who grew up in Hamilton and lives there now with his wife and child, moved on “for personal reasons,” at which point Robinson put him in touch with Mark Faille.
“I love what I’m doing,” Catana says. “I’m providing a service to customers, yes, but I’m also passing on knowledge,” such as what cuts are best for what dishes and how to prepare grass-fed meat to get the best results. Since grass-fed meats are often leaner and cost significantly more than their industrially produced counterparts, this is no small consideration. Catana also offers some specialty cuts and items such as the ready-to-cook braciole he hopes to offer this winter.
He and the Failles are doing everything they can to build the business. “Customers can call us on their way home from work to place an order, and we’ll have it waiting,” the butcher says. They hope to implement a home delivery service soon. “Hey, if you can get a pizza delivered afternoons between 4 and 6 p.m. within 30 minutes, we figure we can do the same.”
To find the ideal location, the Failles worked with Bruce Norfleet of Railsedge Enterprises in Hillsborough and wound up in this small mixed-use center near the intersection of Routes 518 and 601 (The Great Road) in a space that had previously been a gelato shop. The couple did not take out loans to get the store up and running. “It was done all out of our pockets,” Lynne says.
Mark Faille has been animal farming for about 12 years. He and his first wife, Karen, started out with a farm in Hopewell that they initially called Stonyfield. He made his first profit five years later. Lynne and Mark, who will have been married four years this month, lease the 220-acre Skillman farm from Dave McAlpin but own 400 acres in Fort Ann, New York (about 15 minutes from Lake George), as well as farms in Baskerville and La Crosse, Virginia.
“We travel by car between the farms, me with the laptop open the whole time,” Lynne says. In addition to animal husbandry much of the Simply Grazin’ acreage is devoted to what Lynne calls “custom farming of other people’s hay.” Between them, the Failles, both 49, are raising three children: Dylan, 20; Taylor, 19; and Stacie, 14. Mallery’s Meats is named in memory of one of Mark’s daughters who passed away as a toddler, years ago, from a fatal heart condition. The store opened on the anniversary of her death.
I visited Mallery’s one week later, at which point Mike Catana said sales had continued very strong. I watched as he assisted Cynthia and Sam Earle of Plainsboro, who have been buying Simply Grazin’ meats for the last two years, direct from the farm, during which time they became members of its membership program. “At the top, or gold, level for an annual membership fee of $99 you get a 35 percent discount on most meats,” Sam Earle explained. “The membership fee is well worth it.”
I could easily see why for this couple in particular. They follow the Atkins (high protein) diet, and only halfway through their shopping trip had amassed three dozen eggs, a quart of pickles, cans of tomatoes, assorted fresh produce, lunch meats, and many pounds of spare ribs and other meats. They were still adding on at the time of my departure. Before that, I had commented to the Earles that the trip from Plainsboro was not a short one. “We’ll go as far as it takes,” Sam said, adding that he and his wife had tried meat from other grass-fed operations in the area. “But Simply Grazin’s is by far the tastiest.”
Mallery’s Grazin’ Meats, 382 Route 518, Skillman. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 609-309-5451. www.mallerysgrazinmeats.com.
Pat Tanner blogs at www.dinewithpat.com.