The Rapidian

New butcher shop brings locally sourced meats to Wealthy Street Business District

Owners Matt Smith and Cynthia Esch of Louise Earl Butcher are happy to be participating in the local indie food retailer growth. They will be selling pastured meats sourced from area farms and creating daily sandwiches.
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Inside the butcher shop: Along with locally sourced meats, a full selection of accompanying deli and grocery items

Inside the butcher shop: Along with locally sourced meats, a full selection of accompanying deli and grocery items /Rachel Lee

Creating their own sausages at Louise Earl

Creating their own sausages at Louise Earl /Courtesy of Louise Earl

Louise Earl is a new butcher shop in the Wealthy Street Business District, just down the street from Wealthy Theatre. Co-owners and husband and wife, Matt Smith and Cynthia Esch just opened the shop on January 5.

Smith researched and sourced all the farmers who provide the butcher shop’s meat himself.

“The two years that I worked at DeVries Meats, a pork slaughterhouse in Coopersville, really opened a huge portfolio of meat resources to us. We’re adamant about sourcing our own products and going to visit all the farms we represent here," he says. "We sell the highest quality meat that we can find and we want to make sure all the information we learn is correct and to be able to share the farmer’s story with our customers.”

Smith knows the story of each farm and the practices of that farmer for each kind of meat they buy. He takes times to detail the origin of all their meats.

“Our pork comes from Hehlden Farm in Coopersville. Hehl raises heritage breed pigs, including breeding Berkshire hogs just for us,” Smith says. “Matt [Hehlden] is a third generation pig farmer. I met him at DeVries Meats. He grows his own grain right on the farm,” says Smith.

The beef at Louise Earl comes from J Nelson Farm in Midland, Michigan.

“John Nelson is arguably one of the best 100% grassfed beef farmers in Michigan. He has a couple hundred acres where he can continually rotate the cows around and also has enough land where he can grown enough forage to feed his cattle in the winter,” says Smith.

Lamb at Louise Earl is all pastured and naturally raised from Brett Pharo in the Rapids City area.

[Pharo] also happens to be a genetics geek. There were a lot of problems with lambs in the recent past, lots of diseases in the lamb population. [He's] involved with half a dozen lamb farmers in the Midwest that only interact with one another to keep bad genetics and lambs susceptible to disease out. I was really surprised: we even had to wear rubber booties over our boots when we visit because they’re so particular about keeping disease out, says Smith. "We get our chickens from Gunthorp Farms in northern Indiana. They’re pastured, naturally raised birds. Gunthorp’s most famous for his chickens, not just because they’re high quality, but because he provides to Rick Bayless, a famous chef in Chicago. Another unique thing about his operation- he’s only one of a few chicken farmers with his own USDA processing facility right on the farm. He’s self-contained, so there’s lots of quality control from start to finish.”

Louise Earl may also eventually bring in wild game or goat, but that will depend on the season and demand.

“We also have a dairy cooler with organic eggs from an Amish farm on the east side of the state that raises free range chickens. Our organic milk, cream, sour cream, and yogurt are all from Kalona. Eventually we hope to switch to Hilhof, a Michigan producer, but they didn’t have enough for us right now. And our sandwich breads and baguettes are from Field and Fire.”

Weekdays the butcher will also feature specialty sandwiches; weekends will bring biscuits and gravy, made in-house with the lard also available at the shop.

Smith says he and his wife have always been in and around the food service industry, and that they had always dreamed of opening their own place. 

"We chose to do a butcher shop because we wanted to be a part of furthering the natural, indie food movement in West Michigan. When we decided on butchering, I worked around the United States at different butchers. A lot of the successful ones were in walkable neighborhoods and we wanted to be in the Uptown business area because of that. Three years ago when we had the idea, Grand Butchers on Michigan St. and E.A. Brady’s in Eastown weren’t open then. But we see them less as competition and more like more indie food retailers is a plus,” he says.

Smith says they’re passionate about being as environmentally friendly as possible and says the butcher shop is working really hard to put as little as possible in the landfill. “Our trash is at a minimum because we compost and recycle. We believe in using the whole animal. We bring in the whole animal and fabricate everything ourselves. The bones at the end are roasted off and boiled for soups and stocks that we sell in the shop. Our leftovers are composted and picked up twice a week by Organicycle.”

Smith says they did a lot of the renovation work on the building themselves and that they’re really pleased with how supportive the utility companies and City of Grand Rapids have been to work with. 

“This building was boarded up for about 30 years and now there’s a glass storefront again," he says. "It’s exciting."

Louise Earl Butcher is open Tuesday thru Friday 10-7, Saturday from 9-6, and Sunday from 10-4. The deli counter with soups and sandwiches, dairy cooler and pantry items are also available during their full hours. Louise Earl Butcher is located at 1106 Wealthy Street SE.

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