A few weeks ago one of Richmond’s beloved markets, Harvest, hosted a grand opening as the newly branded JM Stock Provisions with a wine tasting and, of course, house-made chili cheeseburgers. The merger between the Richmond grocer and the Charlottesville-based butcher has been over a year in the making, but the partnership between Hunter Hopcroft, James Lum, and Matthew Greene has resulted in one of the best sources of local food in the Virginia area. We chatted with Hunter and James about the future of local farming, sustainable butchery, and the best recipes that even cavemen could make in the winter.
Tell us a little bit about your background:
Hunter: I was born and raised in Richmond, and after college I was interviewing for jobs in Los Angeles when I walked into a store in Echo Park called Cookbook. It was really the first time I had been in a small, locally-focused market, and Echo Park is one of the few parts of LA that is walkable and neighborhood-focused — it actually reminded me of the Fan in Richmond. It got the wheels turning and that’s kind of how Harvest was initially conceived. For me, the main mission of Harvest was to create a space that inspired people to want to cook more at home.
James: I grew up in Winchester, Virginia, went to a small liberal arts college in Tennessee where I got a history degree and wanted to do nothing with it. My now-business partner, Matt Green, got me a job washing dishes a couple days a week at the butcher shop he was working at in New York and over the next two years we worked side by side, talking about what we wanted to do when we moved back to Virginia. Eventually those conversations evolved into a business plan — we moved to Charlottesville in early 2013 and opened JM Stock Provisions in October of 2013.
JM Stock got its start in Brooklyn – what drew you to Charlottesville?
James: We were drawn to Charlottesville primarily by the agriculture surrounding it, the vibrant local food community, great farmers market, and as far as restaurants per capita goes, it’s a great place to be. On paper it just seemed to make perfect sense for us — we wanted to start out small, build good relationships with our farmers and go from there.
The partnership between Harvest and JM Stock seems like a natural relationship – a locally-focused butcher meets specialty market in the heart of a growing food city. How did you two meet?
Hunter: For local food, especially in Virginia, there are a lot of producers near Richmond and Charlottesville but there’s really no meaningful infrastructure. The first year we were both open, there were a lot of calls asking, “Can you bring me this, if I bring you that?” and the like. We were both just trying to get what we needed where we needed it to be. From there, we developed a friendship and it blossomed into what it is now.
Tell us about your whole-animal approach to meat:
James: We buy direct from the farmer, we buy the whole animal, and we aim to use the whole thing. We’re making our own sausage, we’re curing and smoking our own bacon, we’re making deli meats and prepared foods. We’re doing pretty much anything we can do to utilize the whole animal — to turn a profit, and to respect it. It’s a more reverent way of eating meat.
Hunter: We don’t have beef tenderloin in the case most days, we don’t have boneless skinless chicken breast most days — that’s partially because of the scarcity but also partially to prompt the conversation with customers. The lack of boneless skinless chicken breast isn’t so much a margin issue, it’s more so to encourage people to cook whole chickens.
How do you approach educating your customer about local food?
Hunter: People have a tendency to get pretty high-minded when they talk about local food and there’s also the perception of the “butcher shop” as an intimidating atmosphere — we really try to make sure the attitude of everyone here is that “good food is fun,” and sharing good food is even more fun.
James: Our mission from the very very beginning was not only to make these products available to the local community but also to make them more approachable. That’s a creative challenge for us, that’s why we do the zany sausages – take pastured pork, throw some jalapenos and some cheddar cheese in there and someone will try it.
JM Stock has expanded beyond the butcher counter – tell us about some of your prepared foods.
James: We’ve taken to a pretty simple model: buttermilk biscuits in the morning with our tasso ham and a sandwich special on Saturdays. Another thing that took off inadvertently are our sauces — we started making barbeque sauce, then we made a hot sauce because we had some chilis lying around one day and that was a hit. Then we started making ketchup and mustard, so we’ve been trying to keep up. Artisan ketchup – who woulda thought?
What’s the next big thing in butchery?
Vertical integration. Having more control over the whole process is the only way for meat to break out of the industrial food system. Companies like Belcampo in California are really blazing the trail in this arena — It’s pretty unusual to say “we know the farmer who raised this,” but they can say “we are the farmer who raised this.”
What’s your favorite cut of meat?
Hunter: Secreto (pork skirt steak) – It’s one of those cuts you’ll never see at the supermarket, it takes six minutes to cook, and it’s a taco game-changer.
James: It’s a tie – I love braised or smoked meats. I smoke meat all summer and I braise meat all winter, so it’s between short ribs and pork shoulder. Also, usually when you’re braising or smoking you’re cooking with cheaper cuts which is usually what I go for.
What’s your most played music behind the counter?
James: I feel like it depends on which shop I’m in. I’ve been listening to “Pony” by Ginuwine a lot lately, and Taylor Swift is usually on heavy rotation.
Where can we find you on your day off?
Hunter: If i’m not working, I like doing the Sunday Times cover-to-cover and trying any of those ridiculous 50-step “Joy of Cooking” style recipes that take seven hours.
Favorite Richmond Spots: Belle Isle, Dinamo, Saison, Rancho T, Deep Groove.
James: Walking my dog at Belle Isle. Favorite Richmond Spots: Metzger, Saison, Ardent, Yesterday’s Heroes Vintage.
What’s your go-to winter recipe that even an amateur at-home chef could pull off?
James: Beef Stew. My key secret ingredient is parsnips — they give this nice sweetness that nothing else is going to. Other than that, the traditional stuff. Potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and I like to throw in one dried chile de arbol (make sure to take it out so no one eats it.)
Hunter: Pork shoulder. Pork stock, apple cider vinegar, a little bit of molasses, a crockpot, and that’s a week’s worth of meals right there. If you want to eat pasture-raised meats, pork shoulder is really reasonably priced, too. It’s incredibly tasty, you just have to cook it low and slow.
JM Stock Winter Tip: Do a super simple slow roast or braise at the beginning of the week with a good cut of meat and turn that into 20 different meals – use it in sandwiches, ramen, stir fries, barbeque, you name it.
Photography by Jeffrey Ocampo.