Southern Steer Butcher, founded by two Sarasota natives, providing meals to the needy and to a growing list of hungry customers.

SARASOTA — Greg Snyder, co-owner of Sarasota's newest butcher shop, has a simple reason why busy grocery shoppers should take the time to shop there.

"Here it is in a nutshell," he said. "One of our newest employees said to me that, no matter what's going on when he walks in here, he feels like he's immediately in a small town — immediately when he walks in.

"We really have that small-town feel where everyone knows who you are," Snyder said. "He's getting to know everyone by name. It's the neatest perspective when you come to work, and we're proud of that fact."

And like in most small towns, when Snyder learns of someone in need, he helps. In fact, he has a program dedicated to helping people in need — Project 52.

Snyder and the managing partner at Southern Steer Butcher shop, Shay Black, are constantly on the lookout for folks who need some help. Project 52 was their idea.

"We will find a family in the Tampa Bay area or a single mom, someone who's hospitalized or had a newborn, or a single dad who needs help," Snyder said. "We'll donate a package of meals to the family — ready to cook meals and sides."

They find the recipients through various sources, including social media, and they post photos of the many they have helped.

Southern Steer's largesse is not limited to individual families.

On Thanksgiving, the business helped feed more than 1,000 people.

After Hurricane Irma, they gave away hundreds of free meals.

"A week after Irma, we were still without power," Black said. "We got some of our famous steaks trucked in, along with potato salad, and we grilled steaks for first responders, FPL crews and anyone who needed a hot meal. We provided free meals for three days straight, and we even delivered some to Fire Station 12."

Snyder is a Sarasota native, as is co-owner Craig Pratt.

Southern Steer's first store opened in Clearwater almost five years ago. When it came time to open a second location, Sarasota was the obvious choice, Synder said.

"We've received tremendous community support," he said. "It's exciting this overwhelming love for our business. That's the main reason we came to Sarasota. We hunted all around Tampa, but we're partial to here.

"Craig and I grew up here, not even two miles away. It was the perfect location to open our store."

Specialty offerings

Business at Southern Steer Butcher, which opened June 3 at 4084 Bee Ridge Road, has "exceeded expectations," Snyder said. 

Small butcher shops like Southern Steer face stiff competition from large grocery chains. But they offer things that are becoming increasingly important to consumers, according to Chris Young, executive director of the trade group American Association of Meat Processors.

"A shift in consumer desire to know where meat is coming from has resulted in a growing popularity of local butcher shops and farmers markets," Young said. "Consumers are also becoming more conscience about the quality and taste of their foods. Unlike a lot of chain grocery stores, local butcher shops specialize in providing not only excellent customer service, but also higher quality, unique cuts of meat that are typically hard to find elsewhere."

Southern Steer fits that description well.

The shop carries premium Black Angus beef from Creekstone Farms in Kansas.

The full-service butcher shop offers specialty marinated meats created by a special infusion process, custom cuts and "exotic" meats such as elk, bison and rabbit.

"We even have rattlesnake," Black said. "We've joked about creating rabbit/python sausages."

All of their (real) sausages are made in-house.

It's their marinades, Snyder and Black said, that separate them from the competition.

"The concept of marinades is extremely popular in the Northeast outside of Boston," Snyder said. "The amazing thing is that they don't have the grilling season we do here. We started to offer similar products in our unique environment and hoped it would take off. It did."

The "Argentine" marinade — a type of chimichurri — is the most popular flavor of their best-selling marinated steak tips, followed by steakhouse, butter and garlic and teriyaki.

Their marinated chicken includes white and dark meat. Some of the chicken marinades include Jamaican jerk, buffalo, citrus chipotle and Cajun.

Snyder said their biggest sellers, by far, are the "Grill Master Value Combos."

"They're worth the value to the consumer," Snyder said. "They're very popular. Our Clearwater store sells 30 to 40 value packs per week and 10 on the weekend."

The basic value pack offers 2 pounds of marinated steak tips, 2 pounds of marinated chicken breasts, 2 pounds of sausage and two lbs of ground beef for $55.

"The more they spend the more they save," Snyder said.

Snyder and his staff offer far more than just meat.

There is a large cooler crammed full of craft beer — all local brews are well represented — and Southern Steer has its own branded line of sauces, pickles of all types, relish, cider and jars of canned fruit, in addition to a full deli with a wide variety of meats, cheeses and sandwiches.

Snyder and Black are both trained meat cutters and offer nearly any custom cut. Meat cutting is a skill they enjoy passing on to new employees.

"Primal and carnal instincts kick in," Snyder said. "It's really exciting to see someone get into it."

'What's for dinner?'

Southern Steer Butcher helps answer the age-old question — "What's for dinner?" — through weekly food-prep classes.

For $169, up to 10 students assemble 10 main courses, along with two take-and-bake sides, which they bring home to cook later.

Many of the meals are crock pot-ready. Paleo-gluten and sugar-free classes are available.

"We do all the hard work. They leave here with 10 assembled meals that are ready for the crock or grill," Black said. "We also offer private classes. Folks get some friends together, maybe some sangria, and we'll just hang out and have fun." "

Neither Snyder nor Black is anxious to open a third store soon, but expansion is a real possibility.

"We definitely want to continue to grow, but we're not in a hurry. If we do, we'll do it correctly, at the right pace, when we and our staff are ready," Snyder said.

"We're still learning a lot with two locations. When I think the whole team is ready, that's when we go to three."