“My hands have been in meat for 16 years now. I can’t do anything else,” says Joshua Applestone, the now-famous butcher responsible for bringing organic and grass-fed meats back into the neighborhood. After launching stores in villages upstate and in New York City, training new butchers in the trade, co-writing The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (with wife Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu) and further educating himself in the art of charcuterie, the ambitious entrepreneur has proven himself to be anything but mono-talented. You might even call him visionary, once you visit an always-open outlet for fresh meats where everything is packaged and labeled and stored in shiny refrigerated vending machines.
Yes, vending machines: so retro for those of us who remember their arrival on the scene decades ago, yet so modern and slick and upscaled and convenient. The vision is to have a variety of high-quality meats available to people 24/7, and to make the buying experience easy and satisfying. General manager Samantha Gloffke explains, “The key is filling the machines in a way people understand. You don’t have that over-the-counter exchange with somebody explaining to you the different cuts and how to cook them. So we’re always working on signage, and we hired a lighting specialist to backlight the photographs around the machines – anything that helps people with a visual cue to what’s inside.”
The Applestone Meat Company opened one such kiosk-style outlet in Accord a while back. They had bought a truck and set out to deliver frozen meats to your door. The idea for vending machines came about because people kept knocking on the office door to find out what hours they were open for business. Now a second store is opening in Stone Ridge.
Both facilities house processing plants behind the vending kiosks. In Accord they do all advance processing, hotdog- and sausage-making and smoking. In Stone Ridge, whole animals will be broken down and butchered using sustainable methods. That means nose-to-tail: Every part of the animal is used. Parts not for human consumption are made into dog food.
And about these animals: Applestone has always purchased from local suppliers who avoid using hormones and antibiotics to produce their beef, pork and lamb. “We’re still using the same vendors – the same two people we’ve always done. We’re shepherds of a generation of farmers and of the land,” he says.
The company also offers whole and processed animals wholesale to restaurants, caterers and other retail shops. Applestone wants to offer other packaged foods that, without unduly competing with the local grocery stores, make it an easy, one-stop experience for busy cooks. He and his team are thinking about preplanned meal boxes and simple methods to fill preorders. They’re plotting a third vending kiosk in Manhattan.
When asked how the local suppliers will be able to keep up with the demand if the business grows, Gloffke says, “This is a model that could be repeated elsewhere, and so how do you do that? You don’t want to go to a larger supplier; instead, you actually create the closed model where you’re sourcing through another farm in that area, keeping it local. This way, the local food movement happens on that scale.”
And there’s talk of co-packing, which means packaging for certain brands that are made up as “shells.” “For example,” says Applestone, “Costco or Trader Joe’s are brand names that have a warehouse stocked with other people’s products. Costco doesn’t actually make any products; they’re all made by co-packers. We’re going to be working with a couple of big names to co-pack certain things.”
Expansion into all these diverse markets requires more space. Applestone says, “The third local facility will be in an industrial area. I’ve been looking for space for almost a year. I need roughly 10-to-15,000 square feet.” The facilities in Accord and Stone Ridge are essentially sealed buildings constructed within buildings, with no possibility of adding on. “It’s always the same game: When you sell meat, you need to have the refrigeration and a high capacity for water. This building [in Stone Ridge] has taken a year-and-a-half from start to finish. We knew it would take time, and we’ve been held up for months on signage. We want the retail experience to be perfected here before we get to Manhattan.”
He talks about the experimentation with vending machines that fit the company’s needs. “Within a year, we’ll have completely new machines. It’s very interesting when you think about a retail experience of walking into an unmanned store; everything has to be self-explanatory. Think about how ATMs work, and think about how many years it’s taken to get a flawless transition, to make it a part of a day-to-day routine. We’ve gotten good feedback about signage on the machines in Accord. We’re looking into the third generation of machines now. The other option is customization, now that we’ve figured out what we do and don’t like about them, and how they can be improved. We want people to be able to get receipts, and do a computer panel that’s color-coded.”
Gloffke explains the administrative job of adhering to a different set of regulations. “In terms of vending, it’s a whole different world. We are a USDA processing facility, as opposed to an Ag and Market retail shop, regulated by the Department of Health. A processing facility has daily inspections and a huge plethora of regulations – from health and safety regs, to defining what a sausage or hotdog is, to what size font is used in labeling. Everything has a paper trail. Plus, we can feed a lot more people with a wholesale business. We have a wider audience and wider risks, so they keep regulations very tight and fully traceable.”
The operation seems to be about so much more than what they started on John Street in Kingston years ago; there’s so much more to the business than just cutting meat. “I look at technology in a completely different way,” says Applestone. “So many things we do by hand. In hiring staff, the approach is to bring on people who have no skills and are excited to learn, and are excited to work on a team. People who have their own ways of doing things are not flexible. The thing I’ve always wanted to do is: Instead of eliminating jobs with automation, we create better ones.” Check out Aagard Group for more information about this movement, better training, better pay, less turnover in staffing. Bumping up to a crew of ten is the current task.
When Stone Ridge is open for business, they’ll bring in a food truck and some music, set up a hotdog cart and throw a party. “We want to make Stone Ridge engaging and warm, and as inviting as possible,” says Gloffke. The Applestone Meat Company, with two locations at 3607 Route 209 in the village of Stone Ridge and at 4737 Route 209 in Accord, is an ongoing journey, staffed by a tight team of dedicated employees and run by an entrepreneurial spirit that never stops. Check it out at www.applestonemeat.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/applestonemeat. Call (845) 626-4444 for further information.