Keeping customers and staff happy is not an easy task. Yet B & E has done it seamlessly for 61 years. How? It’s a story that started with brothers Bob and Earl Green who have stayed close over the years, whose families are close, who considered colleagues family, have always had positive attitudes, loved their work, were truly interested in their customers’ lives, and enjoyed every day.
If you ask them, sure, there were lean times, but they don’t feel they struggled; they simply kept moving ahead. Maintaining and improving that same path are Bob’s son Jeff and his wife Trisha who purchased the company in 1985, Steve Dunaychuk who joined the company as an owner in 2014, and the incredible B & E service team.
Together we continue to provide a wonderful service to our communities and, like Bob and Earl, we’re sincerely happy doing it and enjoy finding new products to bring to market. We can all learn a lesson or two from their story.
Celebrating their 61st year in business (August 2019), B & E Meats and Seafood is an icon, not only surviving a changing industry, but expanding over the years. More importantly, they’ve done it their way, which continues today.
At the young ages of 18 (Bob), and 23 (Earl), the Green brothers both worked in meat markets. Bob worked in Auburn starting at the age of 16, and Earl worked at Dahlgren and Massey’s in Auburn, a full grocery and meat market where he learned to cut meat. He went from there to another meat market in Auburn before managing the meat market at a store in Kent. Their uncle had a store in Kent and Bob worked there for the meat manager who taught him everything about cutting meat.
Bob went to college for two years at CPS (now UPS) and planned on returning. Ed Travis, a co-worker of Earl’s, retired, then decided it wasn’t the right decision. He found a space in Burien that was for sale and said to Bob, “You and I could do that.” Bob was just 19 and decided to try it. They each put up $500 to buy the shop. Where did the money come from? “Bob was always a saver,” laughs Earl. “He was going to college when he bought in. He had a Kodak camera that he kept money in. He kept good tabs on it, too, I couldn’t sneak in and take any. He’s probably still got it stuffed with money!” Bob’s wife Jean adds, “It was a big step. I wanted him to finish college and he told me he would go back. He never did! I worked for Puget Power and we borrowed the money from the credit union.”
They opened on August 1, 1958. By Thanksgiving, just four months later, Ed decided retirement was better. He suggested that Earl buy his half of the business. “I had a good job, dependable income, three kids and a new house,” recalls Earl. “It took a while to decide. Our dad said, ‘go for it, you’ll do good.’ So I quit, bought Ed out, and went to work with Bob. The first few months were lean, then it started building.” They worked together at the Burien store from November 1958 until April 1, 1975.
In 1958, there were eight meat markets in Burien. Columbia Basin Meats went in right across the street from them. Within 2 months, Red Steer Market went in; both brand new. B & E was not new to begin with. Columbia Basin Meats gave people a half slab of bacon for coming in during their grand opening weekend. They could see their customers going in across the street. “We got slow, business was cut in half for a while. We cut prices. But people slowly dwindled back,” says Bob. Jean thinks customers returned because their goal was always great service. Earl thinks it was because they had a loyal customer base. A third reason was their youthful enthusiasm. “They were fun,” says Jeff, Bob and Jean’s son who now owns the business with his wife Trish. “A cousin, Bill Enger, worked on Saturdays. He was funny; people liked their energy.” They joked with each other and the customers, treating customers like family. “There was a lot of laughter,” says Earl. “We had fun, we really did.” There were eight people working on Saturdays in the small shop in Burien. “We were all young and slender and just hopped over each other,” laughs Bob. “There was only 4-5 feet behind the counter. We worked hard.” Jeff adds, “The beef would come in quarters, as much as 200 pounds. Earl weighed about 150-160 and he’d throw it over his shoulder and carry it.”
They created a great atmosphere where people wanted to work. “The last employee I hired was 15 and he was still there when I retired,” says Earl. That employee worked for Jeff for three years before retiring himself. Another employee, Brian, was 15 when he was hired, too. He still works with the company. “We’ve seen kids come in, then they marry and bring their kids in. One customer had a son and daughter, they’d come in and just terrorize the place. Now one of them works for us and the other is a CPA and works for one of my sons in his accounting firm,” laughs Earl.
Adds Bob, “We took home $75 every two weeks for years, then went to $100 for a long time. Both Earl and I worked in good markets. We knew what we had to do, which was to build up the business checking account in case we had a bad week or month, so we still had money to get meat and pay employees.”
They also knew their customers and did the best for them. “We liked people and they would come in every week. One guy, a police officer, had $25 to feed his family for a month. He had two kids. He’d say, ‘make sure we get plenty for the month.’ A few years ago, we ran into each other and he remembered me,” recalls Bob.
They advertised in the local paper and used direct mail to send product and price sheets to specific zip codes. “Earl and I took turns creating weekly ads for the newspaper to see who could make the best one. And we did fun things like get a big truck and fill it with really good beef from Hibbs Packing Co. We’d create an ad for a side of beef at .39 per pound if the customer took it home and cut it themselves. We sold right out of the truck and people bought it all,” remembers Bob.
From the beginning, quality and customer service created the B & E experience. The slaughter and packing houses were in Kent; both Bob and Earl lived nearby, and they would pick out beef themselves. “We would go to Swift, Armour, Bar S, Henry House Meats, Seattle Packing. We would look at the meat, pick out what we wanted, and they’d tag it for delivery, hanging it for a few days before delivering. We always aged our beef for two weeks before selling.” Earl would drive to Tacoma to choose ham hocks and slab bacon. They also butchered wild game their customers brought in. “We’ve always given samples,” says Earl. “In the beginning, we even gave hot dogs to the kids, so they could munch on something while their moms shopped.”
On April 1, 1975, they purchased Ranch House Meats in Des Moines and opened their second location. It’s now one of Des Moines’ oldest and best-known businesses. “I’m not sure why we waited so long,” muses Earl. “The economy was very bad in 1974, so it was a tough decision. We did buy property in Federal Way and were going to build there, but then another butcher opened. Des Moines came up for sale, so we thought that would be better. Bob took charge of the new store and I stayed in Burien. Originally, we just wanted the meat shop in Des Moines, not the whole building. My father-in-law was in real estate and he told us if we didn’t take it, he would. So we bought it!” A good decision, since it’s given them retirement income with four apartments (two are family occupied), rental space in the back, and retail on the ground floor. They bought the building from a woman whose great, great grandson works at B & E.
All of Earl’s kids worked in Burien at some time. “When my oldest was six, he wanted to work. We’d have him wash the glass cases and sweep the floor. We taught the kids how to cut meat. As they graduated from high school, my three oldest sons got jobs at Safeway. Safeway said ‘keep ‘em coming!’ Working helped them pay to attend the University of Washington.”
Jeff began working at the Des Moines store; he was in junior high school. He played football, basketball, and did judo, then worked on Saturdays. In high school, he took a boys’ home economics class and did his demo on how to cut up a chicken. The teacher was so impressed, she had him do it at other schools as well. When Des Moines opened, it was just Bob, Jeff, and a meat cutter. “The first day we made $34, the second $50. It took a long time to take off. You have to be patient.”
Jeff went on to attend the University of Washington, majoring in Marketing, and lived in a house with other guys and continued to work Saturdays and summers. Jeff was accepted into the management program at Eddie Bauer, working daily at the Bellevue Square location in the ski and cross-country department. He led cross country trips for customers, taking them to Snoqualmie Pass. When they asked him to move to Chicago, he went to Bob and said he’d like to come into the family business. “By the time Jeff and Trish bought the company, we had a good business,” says Bob. One of the components was freezer rental space. “We put together packs of items giving people a discount when they bought larger quantities. We sold lots of freezer beef, but many people didn’t have freezers at home. They rented lockers from us. Finance companies would pick up locker contracts and people made payments to keep their beef and vegetables frozen. When home freezers arrived, that business died out.”
“We developed ways to work with packers, producers, purveyors and processors to ensure we get quality products,” says Earl. “We hand this knowledge down to our kids, our general managers. Everyone monitors the products. We taught people the skill of butchery – no wedge cuts!”
Developing new products kept the business fresh. A few years down the road, they developed their famous tri-tip recipe, marinating it in a mild teriyaki sauce. Earl invented the marinade for their steak recipe. Their kalbi chicken and ribs are extremely popular. Tri-tip and kalbi ribs were put into stainless steel barrels and moved from tub to tub. “They were way ahead of things with the marinades,” says Jeff. “Our secret recipes are still secret. Trish makes up the packets of seasoning and those go to the stores and are used by everyone. But they don’t know what’s actually in the packets.”
Tri-tip didn’t exist when butchers cut meat by hand. When mass cutting in packing houses began, it left a piece of sirloin and sirloin tip, now known as tri-tip. Bob and Earl heard about it from customers who had lived in California. Bob and Earl found out what it was, brought it in, and began experimenting with marinade.
Smoked products came after they opened Des Moines. “We had a friend named Bob Fish who had a market in Moses Lake. He told us there was money to be made in smoked products and talked us into it. He suggested some seasonings and we worked on a recipe until we were happy with it,” says Earl. Adds Bob, “In those days, meat was sent to smoke houses and brought back to sell. I wasn’t sure we could do it, but we decided to try. I bought the first smoker and we tried recipes and different ideas, and it kept growing.” The ‘best of’ awards started rolling in after they started smoking. Now three of their four stores have smokers. Their corned beef recipe came from Ed Travis and it’s as popular today as it was in 1958. The stuffed pork chop is from an early recipe in Burien. The Northwest Meat Processing Association has a big show and butchers and suppliers take their products there. A professional panel of judges vote on the best ones. In the early ‘90s, Jeff went to the show and B & E won Best of Show (WA, OR, ID) with summer sausage.
They continue to develop new items. Jeff had a seriously garlic chicken marinade in a restaurant that he’s been trying to recreate. “It was so good, I decided to research it, but there are hundreds of recipes out there and all completely different. I’m not even close yet, but I’m going to keep working on it! We won’t sell anything until it’s good.”
Jean and Bob sold pizzas in Des Moines at one time, buying cans of pizza sauce from the distributor for North Lake Pizza. Then Boston Pizza went in down the street and started buying their meat at B & E, so they stopped making pizza. Seafood was also added to their product line after they added the Des Moines location.
Tri-tip and kalbi ribs are now done in tumblers so that the meat is rolled, allowing it to absorb all the marinade, 15-20 pounds at a time. They originally made kalbi in 10-pound increments, now it’s 300 pounds at a time.
Smoking was very technical in the beginning. Someone had to manually start smoke at the right moment and have the heat just right. Now it’s computerized. Early on they would buy sausage from a sausage maker. B & E then made link and bulk sausage and Italian sausage. Phil, a long-time butcher, makes their fruit sausage. In the early days, kids started working young. Bob’s and Earl’s kids were full meat cutters at 18. “My parents bought a boat and loved to go out. While they were gone, I ran the store; I was 18,” says Jeff. “I could always call Earl when I had questions. Now, of course, Labor & Industries won’t let you hire anyone under 18 because we’re using knives and saws. I hire people for their personality, who are friendly and like people. Everyone in our stores interacts with each customer every day. We want to maintain that same friendly, family, fun atmosphere we’ve had from the beginning.” Earl adds, “It used to be easy to get kids to work, now it’s more difficult. Both parents may work, and they may be taking care of younger siblings. Or they’re busy with other activities. It’s too bad because kids learned so much on the job; how to talk to people.”
Increased regulations make business more difficult as well. “They sound good and there’s a reason they get put in place, but it piles on,” says Jeff. “Everyone can probably agree that banning plastic bags is a good thing. But we sell marinated meat and that does not do well in paper bags. Plus the cost of a plastic bag is 2 cents, paper is 15 cents. We found out that there is an exemption for meat and marinade, but people don’t know that and think we’re skirting the rules, so we’ve stopped using plastic. In the past, there was never a glove in any of the stores. We washed our hands hundreds of times a day. Now we use a new set of gloves for every single transaction, that’s $50,000 annually. That could be another well-paid employee, but it’s an image thing and we need to use them. For over 30 years, we smoked meats and never had a problem. Then people started putting non-commercial smokers in alleys and new restrictions were enacted. I wrote an over-100-page manual that was rejected, had to rewrite it, and now it’s in place. Yet we’re not doing anything differently than we ever have.”
Accounting methods have changed. Jean did the book work by hand in ledgers. People paid with cash or checks; they would have stacks of checks to enter, now it’s very few. They recorded wages, social security at the end of the month, did the withholding, all with a calculator. Trish moved them onto computers. Steve Dunaychuk, became a partner in 2014 and brought in their POS (point of sale) system. Jeff and Trish’s daughter, Dena, joined the family business in 2008.
Consumers have changed, too. They now like ready-to-cook products, not pot roasts or whole chickens for daily family dinners. B & E offers stuffed pork chops, marinated items, smoked items, mac and cheese, and more items that allow people to put a good meal together quickly. Most stores offer wine and a few other different items. Queen Anne is next door to McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants, so they don’t carry wine themselves.
In all the years they worked together, Bob and Earl never had a fight. “Nothing that lasted more than 10 minutes,” says Earl. “We have three sisters and we all get along. The cousins are close, my kids do things together, even the grandkids are always together. We have pickle ball tournaments at our house.” Jeff adds, “I kind of tell them to lighten up on Earl and they say ‘oh, no, it’s going to be fair and square.” Bob and Earl both spend part of the year in Arizona—their houses are three miles apart. Jean adds, “We have a family get-together every couple of years. In 2017, there were 165 people; no friends, just family. Kids group up by age and play together, even though they’ve never met before. We all feel it’s important to get together.”
Bob and Earl retired in 1999. “Earl and I were both ready and Jeff was ready,” says Bob. “And once you start thinking about it… We loved working together for 41 years. It was fun and good. I never saw this as a generational thing; we went week-to-week. I’m happy that it’s turned out this way.” Jeff expanded the company to two more locations. Newcastle opened in September 2013 and is their largest store. Queen Anne opened in 2015, taking over for A & J Meats which had been in business since 1951. “I love the family business and the whole story,” says Jeff. “Bob and Earl and their family of employees built something really great with their two stores. So often, the next generation kills it. I wanted to take it to a new level and grow the family name. Every time I want to do something, I call Earl and Bob first and tell them. It’s always ‘we.’ They’re always part of things. We’ve brought families together over the table for generations and are proud of all the family meals we’ve been part of. We don’t take that lightly.”
The future? “Earl’s golf life in Arizona is looking pretty good,” laughs Jeff. “It’s possible we may open more stores. We see the changes. Our Queen Anne clientele is younger than elsewhere. The hill is transforming.”
Even after 19 years of retirement, Bob and Earl take great pride in the company. “I’d want people to know that B & E is the best place ever to buy meat. They should look no further! I don’t feel that we had real difficulties along the way. We had great customers.” Adds Jeff, “After 19 years, we still get people coming in several times a week asking how Bob and Earl are doing and to tell them hi. I’m a business person, but Bob and Earl are living legends. They didn’t see it as a business, it was friendship.”
Leave a review of B&E Meats and Seafood