BLUE HILL — A local restaurateur with businesses from Bar Harbor to Biddeford has started a meat subscription service, Blaze Meat Company, to shore up revenue lost due to COVID-19.
“The amount of revenue that we’ve lost is just massive,” said Matt Haskell, who owns the Blaze restaurants. “No one can tell us when it’s going to end. No one can tell us when people are going to be safe to go out.”
The newest restaurant, a 10,000-square-foot establishment in Biddeford on the Saco River, was scheduled to open March 18—a few days after Governor Janet Mills’ executive order, which only permitted takeout at restaurants.
Haskell said the menu at his restaurants has been available for takeout but offering higher end fare “curbside is not ideal for my restaurants.”
“A burger is $15, $16 dollars,” he said. “I use a grass-fed product. Curbside doesn’t lend itself to those kinds of models. Chefs and owners don’t like to take their foods and put it in a box.”
But, the businessman has friends who are farmers that raise animals and “do essentially meat retail. I decided to utilize some of those connections while at the same time, the supply chain is falling.”
A lot of the meat processing plants in the Midwest are working at half capacity or are closed because of COVID-19, Haskell said.
“I had an opportunity to take some of those animals that were going to be euthanized and put them back in the supply chain,” he said. “That’s what we did. We’ve been feeding them and slowly putting them to slaughter. There’s a lot involved in getting them to Maine though.”.
For perspective on how dire the situation is for farmers in the Midwest, Jim Monroe of the National Pork Producers Council said in an interview with CNN that COVID-19 has created a financial crisis and an animal welfare crisis.
“The financial crisis is because there’s too many hogs with nowhere to go,” Munroe said in the article. “Their values had dropped. You’ve got an overcrowding challenge on farms, around each animal having enough access to water and feed. And at what are you forced into a really tragic decision because you can’t properly care for all these animals?”
And thus, Haskell is trying to generate revenue to save his businesses while keeping pork from being wasted.
He is selling pork, including pigs that have been brought to a farm in Blue Hill from a source in New York, as well as Jack’s Creek beef. “We’re selling some Heartstone Farm burger patties and ground beef.”
Haskell’s source in New York is supplying people from all over the country. “You can get one-month old piglets to finished hogs. You can get anything right now.”
“We haven’t done a lot of marketing yet,” Haskell said. “We’re continuing to build it.” More information is available at https://blazemeatco.com/.
Delivery is in state and New England. Eventually shipping will be offered.
“Right now we’ve only released boxes of pork,” he said. There’s a 125-pound box called the Big Backyard Barbecue Box. Customers eventually will be able to purchase specific cuts, he said, such as chorizo or sweet Italian sausage or pork chops or racks of ribs.
“I haven’t decided if this is going to be a long-term thing,” the restaurant owner said. “Right now, I’m doing this to help cash flow for my company. If it works, maybe I’ll stick to it. I’m just looking to help the supply chain a little bit, get people some food and see where it goes. If it continues it would morph into a more specialty meat company.”
Haskell bought his first restaurant in Orono in 2002.
“I’ve seen some good days and some bad days,” Haskell said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Basically, the rule books have been thrown out the window,” Haskell said. “You can’t look at last year’s sales and make projections. Quite frankly, the restaurant industry may never be normal again.”