Brooklyn’s first vegetarian restaurant week in November sent shockwaves through the entire carnivore community. Was this a sign that vegetarians are a growing special interest group to be reckoned with in the gastronomic world?
So what better time to drop in on John McFadden, the owner of the old-school Staubitz Market on Court Street to gauge the meat-eating habits of Brooklynites. In his 51 years at Staubitz, McFadden has seen tastes change from cheaper cuts to prime beef and back again. He checked in with Brooklyn Paper reporter Mike McLaughlin, himself a committed meat-eater.
Q: Does a meat man get squeamish at the thought of a vegetarian week?
A: No, no problem at all. My 17-year-old daughter is a vegetarian. That’s her choice. We joked about it because girls of that age category go against whatever the parents do. It’s a new generation out there and a new generation that has to think for itself. We came up in the 1960s and we protested against everything.
Q: Who was the first vegetarian you met?
A: My sister-in-law was a vegetarian back in the 1960s. In those days, she was more of an outcast. When she came over, we used to say “Don’t you wish you could have this steak?” We used to laugh about it. It was a joke in that time.
Q: Did you become a butcher for any red-blooded reasons?
A: I came into this business for survival. It was in the 1950s, and we came from a very poor section of Brooklyn. I quit school at age 15. An adviser said, “Instead of quitting school, why don’t you go to a trade school?” I decided to go to the food-trade school in Manhattan. I worked there until I was 21 and learned my craft very well.
Q: How did you wind up at Staubitz?
A: I got off at the wrong stop on the way to the unemployment office. I came in here and asked the owner if he knew where it was. He asked what I was going for and I told him I was a butcher. He said, “A butcher! We can use you. I want you to work Thursday, Friday, Saturday and, if you don’t like it, you can collect unemployment on Monday.” So I stood here Thursday, Friday and Saturday and everything else has been terrific. That was 51 years ago.
Q: How else have your customers changed?
A: They eat more selective cuts and families have become smaller. You don’t have the big family thing with five or six kids coming in here every week. Now people want better meat, organic meats, grass-fed meats. They want all kind of game. They’re into health.
Q: What keeps your customers coming in week after week?
A: Consistency. We hear many times from people who go to the chain stores, they pick up something that’s pretty good and they go back for the same thing and it’s completely different. It’s Russian roulette over there.