B & E Meats and Seafood A Family Affair by Connie Adams of Seattle Dining
Author: B&E Meats and Seafood
April 15, 2019
Article by Connie Adams of Seattle Dining, May 2016
B & E - a name that harkens back to simpler times when young men (Bob 19 at left, Earl 24) started businesses and named them after themselves. It was 1958 in Burien when there were eight meat markets in Burien alone. Times have changed, few stand-alone butcher shops remain, and many stores have meat departments. Yet B & E thrives, run by family members who treat customers like friends.
Bob's son Jeff (pictured) and his wife Trisha own the business, purchasing it from Bob and Earl in 1999. Jeff started working in the shop in 1975 when he was 14. Earl had five boys, all of whom worked there at some point. Ultimately, Jeff was the one who stuck with it. Jeff and Trisha's daughter Dena, 22, is involved now, along with two of Earl's grandsons, Kyle and Mike. "It's great to see the third generation come in," says Jeff. "Both Bob and Earl pop in sometimes. My dad was great at customer service, and I'm good, but Dena is on another level. She started working when she was 15."
Dena worked for a larger business for a short time, enough to realize she loved the family business. That's déjà vu for Jeff: a business degree at the University of Washington and the management program at Eddie Bauer. "Even as a department manager, I didn't have control of what I sold. It was a good lesson. When you run your own business, the decisions are yours, and you live with the consequences, good or bad."
The secret to their success? Better meats, great customer service, the B & E experience. "We can't be the cheapest because we're not the largest. But we can be the best. New customers can be intimidated by the variety; we want that first experience to be comfortable. We like our stores to be neighborhood gathering spots. When our employees ask about kids' soccer games, they're sincere." Jeff read restaurateur Danny Meyer's book "Setting the Table," and was struck by what Danny said. "Within moments of being born, most babies find themselves receiving the first four gifts of life: eye contact, a smile, a hug, and some food. We receive many gifts in a lifetime, but few ever surpass those first four. That first time may be the purist "hospitality" we'll ever receive, and it's no surprise that we'll crave those gifts for the rest of our lives." Every B & E employee hears this in orientation. As a customer, you'll see it: a warm welcome, kind words and, especially if you're new, a sample of smoked salmon candy or smoked jerky. "We want new customers to know our quality, and to build trust. As people talk, they sell each other on items they like. That's when we know we've done our job!"
Marinades are another specialty, made from scratch daily. "These are unique. We know if people try a marinade, they'll be back. Sometimes we'll add a few kalbi-marinated ribs with someone's order and suggest they use as an appetizer." They also marinate chicken breasts and thighs, and offer cooking instructions. "Meat can be great, but if incorrectly cooked, neither of us look good. We want the customer to look like a rock star to family and friends." If a customer buys three pounds of ground beef, they'll be asked if they want it in one package or broken up into three packages, wrapped in freezer paper, and marked as to what it is. Have a new recipe? Bring it in and let the experts help you pick the right cut of meat and give you cooking tips.
From 1958 to 1980, they sold only meat. Jeff added seafood, then smokehouses, which eventually grew larger. "Smoked meats are a big part of our business," says Jeff. Each store specializes in something that is shared with the other stores: Burien smokes beef jerky; Des Moines sausage, pepperoni, and bacon; Newcastle salmon and salmon candy. "Most of our smoked products have won awards in competitions." They dry age beef at each location, and use natural, prime-graded beef, the top 2% of beef. They offer gift cards, freezer packs, and game processing. If you have a special request, ask. If they don't have it, they can probably get it with some notice.
Burien manager Caeb with King salmon fillet
In 1999, they purchased Ranch House Meats in Des Moines, remodeling and adding all new equipment. In Burien, they bought the building at the end of the same block as their original store, adding visibility and improved parking, opening December 2004. In 2010, they partnered with North Shore Quality Produce in Federal Way, crunching into one corner of the small space, waiting for the adjacent store to open. It never did, so they moved operations into the Des Moines store. Newcastle opened in September 2013. "This was different for us. We were known in the south end, but not on the Eastside. Yet they took us in right away, and we've drawn customers from Mercer Island and Bellevue. We thought we were done growing for awhile, but then the Queen Anne location came up."
A & J Meats had been on Queen Anne since 1951, named for Al and Jerry. A son, Rick Friar, had been running it until ready to retire. Gordy, the fruit sausage maker at Queen Anne, told his brother-in-law, the GM at a B & E store, they were closing. Jeff called Rick and negotiations began. Rick is still their landlord ("the best ever-he even worked Christmas after we took over"). Gordy stayed on and continues to make the beloved fruit sausages. A & J had other items that people clamored for-meatloaf, chicken and beef pot pies, stuffed peppers-all are now offered in each B & E store.
Smoke truck: ribs, drummettes, half chickens
If you know B & E meats, you'll be back soon. If you're new to them, go in, try some salmon candy, talk to other customers and staff. You'll feel at home immediately.