Meat Market: Pat LaFrieda Reflects on Four Generations of Butchery

Categories: Chef Interviews

Nick Solares
When I meet Pat LaFrieda for lunch, I'm thrown for a moment. This man, part of the family behind Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, is perhaps the best-known butcher in the country (or at least, in our part of the country), supplier of beef to the the city's top restaurants, and creator of hamburger blends that sometimes command more attention than the restaurants that serve them. But he doesn't look like a butcher. He's tall and fit, and in his blue collared button down and (presumably) expensive jeans, he looks more like the type of executive who's become accustomed to playing by his own rules.

As if reading my mind, he offers, "People always tell me I don't look the part. I tell them there's a shorter, rounder, older version of me that they could talk to instead." That would be Pat LaFrieda Jr., who still cuts meat from 3:30 in the morning until 3:30 p.m., when he turns the facility over to his son.

Pat the third is a fourth generation butcher; his great-grandfather, Anthony, came to the States in 1906. He'd begun to learn the meat business in his native Naples, and here, he had the opportunity to step out on his own in 1922. All five of his sons -- including Pat Sr. -- worked for the company, and in the '50s, they started selling to restaurants during a labor strike. That set the course for the company -- today, Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors sells predominantly to restaurants, doing retail via its website and for just a few select grocers, like Eataly.

Pat Sr. stood at the meat table until he died in 1989, says Pat III, and then he turned the business over to Pat Jr. In the meantime, Pat III went to school for finance, eventually taking a job on Wall Street (perhaps that explains his appearance). "I hated it," he says. "I was selling intangibles to strangers over the telephone." So he begged his dad to let him work for the family business, and eventually prevailed thanks to an aunt, Lisa, who, Pat III says, was well-connected and very convincing.

Since joining the business, the youngest Pat has seen the LaFrieda name make its way onto menus and into the lexicon of devoted food fanatics. But he insists that the company runs much the way it always has, with an eye for quality, a penchant for transparency, and an understanding of its own limits.

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