In just a few short years, Russ Flint has put Rain Shadow Meats on the map of Seattle's food scene in a big way. In addition to its original Capitol Hill store, Rain Shadow has expanded into a second location in Pioneer Square. There, Flint and his team of knife-wielding, meat-loving cutters and cooks supply the city with overstuffed sandwiches at lunchtime and cuts to take home all the time.
As part of Eater's The Five Days of Meat, we caught up with the former chef to get the whole story on how he got into the industry, and why he's knee-deep in it still, 15 years later.
How long have you been a butcher?
I have been in and out of butcher shops for about 15 years, cutting meat for about 12 of those years.
What's it like being a butcher in Seattle? Just the basic experience.
Well, as you know there are not too many true butchers around and not too many that do what we do at Rain Shadow Meats. I have had a great experience being part of the food community here in Seattle. Rain Shadow has been very well received and supported and I feel it's one of the top butcheries in the city, or even in the state. Seattle is my home and I love it here and I'm very glad to be part of it.
How did you get into the business and why?
I was in school at the time and ran into a old friend who was quitting his job at Larry's Market right when I needed a job. I started working there, just cleaning the shop and helping customers. I really had no idea that it would lead to my career and having my own shops. I have always been attracted to food from a very young age—it's the one thing in my life that just makes sense. I love food and understand it.
What is your favorite thing about being a butcher? Biggest challenge?
This sounds a little weird for me to say because I love so many other things than cutting meat but…I am honestly doing something I love to do and it makes me feel good at the end of the day that I feel like I'm making a difference in my community. Biggest challenge…Probably getting that point across to my customers and community. Rain Shadow and the meat that we sell is for the whole community, from the farmer to the customer that stumbles by confused, looking as if he's never seen a butcher shop before, to our incredibly loyal customers; it's for chefs locally and across the states.
What's your favorite meat to cut? Eat? Why?
I honestly like cutting all meat. I don't have a single animal or cut I don't enjoy cutting. Every time I cut something it's a challenge to cut it faster, cleaner, or just do it a different way.
If I had to choose one whole animal I enjoy breaking down most, it would have to be veal. We get very few veal every year, maybe two if we are lucky. It's just a nice sized animal to cut. I also love eating it all but especially rabbit, pork brisket, and a giant côte de bœuf from either one of our two beef farms: Harlow Cattle Co. or Gleason Ranch.
I kind of know the story of how you got to where you are with Rain Shadow, via restaurants, but can you tell it in your own words?
While working at Whole Foods, I met Renee Erickson's mother, since she was buying sausage for the Boat Street Cafe every week. I started chatting with her about my interest in getting into a kitchen or going to culinary school. She introduced me to Renee and the rest, well, is history. I worked for Renee for about six years total and she's the one who brought me up to the Melrose Market building when it was still an auto body shop and the idea for the market was just beginning. I had mentioned an idea for a butcher shop to Renee the year before so she knew that I was thinking about it.
I was off traveling in 2008 when the recession hit hard, and when I returned home, I decided to put my ambition of opening something on hold until the market became more stable. Well, three months later Renee brought me up to the Melrose Market building and I went home that night and started writing a business plan. About 18 months later, Rain Shadow Meats opened.
Has owning Rain Shadow been everything you hoped and dreamed?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Owning and operating one business is a challenge and two is just fucking crazy. My sister has been doing all the accounting since we opened which was a huge learning curve and we are still learning new things every day. I could not have done it without her or my family. So I would say no, it's not all that I dreamed of, but it does make me feel great for seeing the challenges and facing them head on.
What's next? Another location? Dinners? Other things?
I am done! Two is plenty and I really need to focus on getting them both running at full speed and then I will try and relax a little. I have a few ideas but if I ever do anything else, it will be years down the road.
Anything else you want to add?
I want everyone to know that I cannot and have not done this without lots of help from some pretty incredible employees, family, friends, and loyal customers. I am very grateful to all of them.
I also always try and push the fact that what we do at Rain Shadow Meats is very unique. Whether you are a meat eater or not, I hope everyone appreciates what we are trying to achieve, which is to educate everyone that meat is not just something in Styrofoam on some shelf in a giant market. It comes from living, breathing beings and we need to respect that. Now that I have a kitchen at the Pioneer Square shop, we truly use every bit of the animals. Yes there is some waste for sure but really only fat and few odd bits. All the bones and sinew go into stock. I am very proud of that!
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