The new owners of a small slaughterhouse in eastern Ontario not only kept an essential service for local farmers, but also turned their facility into an informal school for aspiring butchers.
Quinn’s Meats in Stone Mills, Ont., Had been on sale for a few years before being purchased in February 2021 by Kara and Darold Enright, much to the relief of local meat producers.
While the couple aren’t new to meat farming, taking over a slaughterhouse has turned out to be a steep learning curve, says Kara Enright.
“I have to admit that during the first few months we just looked at each one and we were like, ‘What have we done? “” she said. “We have certainly questioned our decision on several occasions.”
Former owner Brian Quinn was looking to retire, so he put up for sale the abattoir and adjacent deli after 45 years in business.
“We were like, ‘Well, somebody will take over,’ Kara said.
As the sale went on without a deal, many members of the local meat farming community, including the Enrights who run a small cattle farm near Tweed, Ont., Worried about losing access to a small slaughterhouse that provides personalized cuts, at a time when the waiting list for many slaughterhouses is stretching up to a year.
“Our family, along with other local farms, were struggling to process their animals,” Kara said.
“There isn’t a lot of processing capacity and we were worried that if we lost another processor in the area, it would put even more pressure on other slaughterhouses. So we decided to take a look.
She says the visit led to the eventual purchase of the slaughterhouse and the family’s determination to serve farmers and local residents.
“We decided this was a great opportunity.… We love being in a community that has access to all this local food.”
Unlike much larger meat processing plants, Quinn’s Meats offers custom animal cuts, made by a team of four to five butchers who work mostly by hand at a common table.
Since there is no assembly line, every meat cutter at Quinn is expected to handle a variety of animals from start to finish.
Kara Enright says the workflow presented a staffing challenge for new owners.
“What we did not realize when we first decided to buy the slaughterhouse is that it is actually very difficult to find experienced and skilled labor, and in particular butchers, ”she said.
So the owners turned to veteran slaughterhouse butcher Dave Kingston to pass the skills of the trade to a new generation through on-the-job training.
“By working here you will become a rounded meat cutter,” said Kingston. “You will learn all the different cuts.”
One of the four student butchers is Annie Garrett, who has worked at Quinn for the past 12 years as a meat wrapper.
“I’m too curious. I was like, ‘How do you do that?'” Said Garrett. “When the Enrights took over and they were short of competent people, I was ready to do it.”
Garrett admits the learning curve has been steep despite all of his days at the facility.
“Years to watch [the butchers], they made it easy, “she said.” But as soon as you have the knife in your hand, well, there’s definitely a skill there. “
Ultimately, Garrett says she’s not only happy to continue being a part of Quinn’s Meats, she also enjoys a new level of satisfaction that her newfound skills bring her.
“It’s pretty funny knowing that something I do is coming back to someone’s family and they are feeding it.”