An update on what’s happening at the Applestone Meat Company in Stone Ridge is always warranted, because there’s always something new or something in the wings waiting to take the stage. (We’re dying to know about the renovation of the property and the building next door, but we’ll be patient.) Just driving by or wandering through the store makes you want to buy a chunk of meat and rush home to cook.
But speaking of wings, the 24/7-open retail dispensary of freshly butchered, sustainably sourced, hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef, pork and lamb now offers certified organic chicken from Bell & Evans. It’s a convenience for shoppers and a value-added option for anyone who wants to please everyone at their table in one shopping stop.
“Bell & Evans is a really good company, as well as local. They not only do the same type of sourcing practices and procedures for processing as we believe in,” says Josh Applestone, “they also have a state-of-the-art facility, and they use air-chilling rather than water-chilling, which is a much safer way of processing chicken.”
Applestone reports on a flurry of developments as well as the success of his innovative 24/7 meat-dispensing machines. “Part of what we’ve been seeing, with Stone Ridge being this proof-of-concept, is how many people come in and want to talk to you, and how many come in and start using the machines right away,” he says. “Over time, people don’t need to chat as much. They don’t need direction or explanation; they are used to the system. And it’s growing. Sales are up 40 percent over last year. It’s working.
“We want them to come whenever they can, whenever their schedules allow. We’re expanding to Hudson in 2019 and just got approval in East Chester for a 24/7 there.” The customer-service window is open for a certain part of the day for anyone who does have questions about how to use the machines or how to cook a cut of meat. This is also where frozen meats are stocked.
“We cut daily, and freeze meats after a very short amount of time. The freezer sales really drive the customer-service window, because of the good variety of frozen products that we sell for 20 percent off. A lot of people buy in bulk and freeze anyway, so it makes sense. It’s very convenient. Frozen is a great way to preserve fresh meat, and it’s easier for a retail establishment to offer both and move both products evenly. Not only are we satisfying a need in the community, but it’s a need for a successful local business model.”
When asked about keeping up with the growing demand, Applestone says, “We’re opening up other farmers – a lot more pig farmers coming online by the spring; by the summer we’ll have more beef farmers. We’re always expanding and working with local farmers to get more products in, and more variety. Part of the ability to do that is we’re opening more stores, so our demand is much more. I do farm business a couple times a month just to keep up with the farmers and what’s coming out. New farmers always want to talk to me. It’s great – gets me out from behind the desk.”
Applestone is not doing wholesale these days. “I like restaurants and miss having relationships with restaurants. It’s just a matter of time and space. We work with farmers who usually have extra… Farming is unbelievably tough. Part of the relationship you build with a farmer is trust: knowing that they’re going to raise what you want the way you need it, because you can’t be out there constantly watching them. And they’re going to trust that you’re going to pay ’em cash, and pay them quickly. It’s not like they have a bank of resources. It takes years to build these relationships and understand how you can help them and not waste their time.
“When I started Fleischer’s, this was an education. I had people helping me understand farmers more. It didn’t take much time to understand the perils that farmers face. We hear about big snows and how cattle starve because they can’t get feed to them. It’s a tough business. The places I go are more northern and western New York, where it’s really cold with a lot of snow. There’s constant work to be done.”
Applestone has closed the small processing plant in Accord, but will be opening a much-bigger plant less than a mile down the road by the summer. The company currently employs around 30 people in Stone Ridge. Before I leave, I ask whether my order of oxtail is in. Not yet, it seems.
“We sell out of oxtail all the time. There’s only one per animal, you know,” says Applestone. So get your name on the list before the season of rich, steaming oxtail soup becomes a memory.
Applestone Meat Company, 3607 Main Street, Stone Ridge, open 24/7, service window 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily; (845) 626-4444, https://applestonemeat.com.