The Legend of Phil Bishop, B & E Meats and Seafood
Author: B&E Meats and Seafood
October 25, 2018
Interviewed October 5, 2018
As General Manager of B & E Meats and Seafood, Phil ensures that everything runs smoothly and that there is a positive income flow. He is one of a group of four who make decisions for B & E (owners Jeff and Trish Green and Steve Dunaychuk). “I prefer slow and steady growth without spikes,” Phil says. “We want to protect our customers. So if we miss an opportunity because we moved too slowly, that’s better in my opinion than hurting our customers. They trust us as their neighborhood butcher and we take that seriously and want to provide value for their money. Sometimes our products might cost more, but our quality is better. We do things other places don’t, like find special holiday items our customers want.”
Phil knows about customer service in this industry; he’s spent his whole life working with meat. His father had a packing house and slaughter truck in southern Oregon. “I grew up in Coquille, Oregon, and spent my early adult life in Brookings, Oregon. Everything I know, I learned from my dad.” The area was logging-driven. When that industry went away, about 30 years ago, so did the businesses that served it. Phil’s father went to work with McKay’s Markets, retiring in 2015. For a while, Phil had his own company, Argo Meats, in Oregon. “It was a small company with no retail, just custom work,” he explains. After closing his shop, he worked at McKay’s Markets for about 10 years. Near the end of the ‘90s, his mother, who lived in Sea-Tac, had cancer. His wife cared for her while he worked in Oregon. Eventually, living in two states became too much. He decided to move to Washington and knew Earl Green, a founder of B & E, who introduced him to Jeff Green, son of Bob Green, the other founder. Phil began working for B & E in the spring of 1999 at both locations, Burien and Des Moines. When asked if he came on as a butcher, he replied, “We prefer to be called ‘meat stylists.’” And now it’s clear why he gets along so well with this crew. Another connection is his brother-in-law Gordy, who worked at A & J Meats on Queen Anne and continues to work there after B & E took over the location.
Phil understands the business from slaughter to table; very few Phils exist anymore. He could work anywhere, but chooses to stay with B & E. “I stay for Jeff and Trish, and Bob and Jean. “Bob and Jean became my surrogate parents. I have so much respect for them. Bob has never said a bad word about anyone, even someone who had mistreated him. Working with them, Earl and Rita, and Jeff and Trish is like working with family. Jeff is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. I can remember seeing Jeff hanging jerky at midnight. He’s also one of the smartest people around. I can work numbers, but he just does them in his head. I can always go to him for sound financial advice. I’ve never met more honest people than Jeff and Trish. And I call Dena, Jeff and Trish’s daughter, my work daughter. She was six when I came on. Steve is an incredibly hard worker; he’s very impressive.”
As a group, they’ve met challenges head on. “There are lots of challenges in this industry,” says Phil. “There is so much information out there about food and that’s good. But there’s a lot of disinformation and it makes people worry. Part of what we do at the stores is help educate people and ensure they know what’s true. Another challenge was growing from two stores to four. That included getting a POS (point of sales) system. We don’t just think about us when we change something. We need to think about our customers and how it will impact them. It can’t be invasive.
An ongoing challenge is hiring people. I have five kids and 10 grandchildren, and it’s still a challenge for me to understand young people! I tell my kids, you have more education and opportunities than we ever did, but you have to get over yourselves in order to take advantage of them. Kids are exposed to many things they’re not emotionally equipped to handle, but you can’t shield them from it all. I try to get kids to understand that they have to at least care about their job, even if it’s not a passion. You have to take pride in what you do. They seem to want it to all fall in place for them, but the hard work has to come first. I’ve watched Bob and Earl and now Jeff and Trish and Steve help people who work here, they just have to be honest with us and ask. It’s another reason I’m still here, seeing how they treat their work family.”
Challenges come about naturally, too, like the business changing to meet changing lifestyles. “People don’t shop like they used to, maybe once a month for a big family. Now families are smaller, and there are more places to shop, so they go three times a week or whenever they need to for a meal. They don’t cook as much, so we offer pre-cooked products along with our meats and seafood. We also deal with a global market, not local. So when short ribs are exported to Japan and we have fewer here, prices go up. That’s something we have to explain; people think we’re making “extra” money, but we’re not. It used to be I could price our products 2-3 times per year, now it’s weekly.
Phil’s day starts at 3 or 3:30 a.m., in order to get to work by 4 a.m., never later than 5 a.m. “I need to get my stuff done before the phone starts ringing! Once a week, I go to all the shops. I tell all my managers, if you plan properly, it should all run smoothly.”
For health reasons, Phil has gone to a plant-based diet. “I have to tell people, meat is not bad. It has the amount of meat we eat that’s not healthy. We’re a rich nation and it’s caused health problems." He still eats meat occasionally and has to taste things for work. His B & E favorites are prime rib and bacon.
“I hope that B & E continues to grow and feel it will need to come with the next generation. It takes a lot of hard work to grow it right, and Dena needs to have that vision. Right now, we’re still the neighborhood place, and as time goes on, we become more unique. When it comes time to retire, I probably won’t do it fully! I’ll come back on holidays and make sure everything is happening right!”