Buckhead Meat opens to the public for the first time: 'It’s a lot bigger than we expected'


Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle

Buckhead Meat has been serving Atlanta's high-end restaurants for more than 30 years. Now, diners can get the brand's products to cook in their home kitchens.

Buckhead Meat of Atlanta (formerly The Buckhead Beef Company) began retail operations out of its College Park facility this week, in response to declining restaurant sales due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Founded in 1983 and acquired by Sysco Corporation (NYSE: SYY) in 1999, Buckhead Meat has never before opened to the public. The experiment has been a hit.

Buckhead Meat sold $12,000 worth of product to 108 customers on Wednesday, its first day of retail. President Paul Mooring did not have a final tally as of press time Friday, but based on early numbers, he expected that sales figure to double with roughly 250 customers on day two.

"It's a lot bigger than we expected," Mooring told Atlanta Business Chronicle. "It’s been pretty overwhelming, the response that we’ve got."

The company is opening its doors each Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. First responders can begin placing orders at 9:30 a.m. and receive 20% discounts. Customers line up in their cars down Buckhead Meat's long driveway, and once they reach the front of the line, hand over pieces of paper with their orders. Employees call in the orders, which are brought out and loaded up into trunks. Purchases are made with credit and debit cards only.

"We’re obviously trying to work on the social distancing and making sure our people are safe, so we’re asking them to wear masks and gloves, and we don’t need any signatures on invoices or anything," Mooring said.

Opening to the public has been popular for various reasons. Some customers know the sort of restaurants Buckhead Meat supplies and are jumping on an opportunity to acquire a certain level of product. Buckhead Meat works with roughly 660 establishments across metro Atlanta. Its client list includes Ford Fry's Rocket Farm Restaurants (Superica, Marcel, Beetlecat); Fifth Group Restaurants (South City Kitchen, Ecco, The Original El Taco); and national steakhouse brands such as Ruth's Chris, Morton's, and Fleming's.

Others are looking to Buckhead Meat for bulk sales at a time when many grocery stores are rationing. Among the company's initial retail offerings were 10-pound boxes of strip steaks or pork chops for $35, 10-pound packages of stew meat (beef for $20, pork for $10) and head-on ducks for $5 each. The company is selling smaller kits at different price points. Premium steak kits come with four Certified Angus Beef Choice filets, two Prime strips and two Prime ribeyes for $125.

Some popular products, such as ground beef, shrimp, tilapia and tuna filets, have sold out quickly. Mooring said Buckhead Meat is taking customer feedback into consideration on the company's new retail line.

We’re a big, big company that sells to food service, and we’ve got a lot of product that we’re either going to have to put into the freezer to try to save it, or we’re just going to sell it," he told the Chronicle. "I’d rather sell it now than have to freeze it and deal with it later.

Atlanta restaurants have been forced to operate as takeout and delivery operations or close down altogether because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Buckhead Meat is trying to adapt to a rapidly changing business climate too.

"Our business is down and we’re not selling to restaurants and we have all this product," Mooring said. "Clearly, there’s a need and a gap, and how can we best fill that? We’ve had to shift our model and innovate."