Food + Dining Main

Artisans: Jim Pepper, butcher

The owner and head butcher at Naples best meat emporium, Jimmy P's, talks shop.

BY June 13, 2013

Butcher/co-owner of Jimmy P's

Age: 58

Years in the trade: 45

Got his start: Apprenticing for his dad, who was a butcher in Chicago

In Southwest Florida since: 1985

Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate our use of the word “butchered.” Sure, in the past we’ve used it to describe botched haircuts and lackluster screen adaptations of our favorite novels. If you’ve ever tried to French your own crown roast, you know what an art butchering is. But when it comes to creating meat masterpieces, Jim Pepper, co-owner of beloved butcher shop Jimmy P’s—which he started with his son, Jimmy, in 2001—is truly a cut above. Pepper filled us in on everything from the state of today’s meat market to how his shop has become the favorite hangout for local carnivores.

Cutting his teeth

“There used to be a rigorous apprenticeship process to become a butcher. You’d have to take a test at the end and break down a whole side of beef. The whole process was very intense; for the first six months you’d start in the chicken room where it was 45 degrees. When you moved to the beef room, you earned six cents more an hour, but you started by cleaning up the six-foot pile of bones left by the other guys. Today, these apprenticeships don’t really exist.”

Occupational hazards

“The worst injury I’ve ever had was a boning knife through the arm, but I’ve still got all my fingers. You know, (the working conditions) used to be a lot worse, but either way, as a butcher accidents are something you don’t like talking about.”

Specialty cuts

“I love being a butcher; it’s something different every day, especially here in Naples where everyone is from somewhere else. There are all these regional specialties that people ask for and I have to know them, so I’ve learned all these little niche things. “The weirdest thing I was ever asked to butcher was a lamb’s head. They asked me to cut it down the middle and the brains squirted all over me—like, all over my face! I charged them an extra $15 for that.”

Premium meats

“What sets us apart is the quality of the meats we carry. We don’t even mess with American beef anymore. All of our beef is Australian Wagyu beef. Last year, I did carry USDA Prime, and it was the only meat we got complaints about. We’re seeing a decline in the quality of the grading system—there are dairy cows making their way into the system—and our clientele wants the best. Anyone who is going to stay in this business has to be able to offer the best.”

“I think the future for us is going to be online orders. Our clients are fantastic, but the online orders are really what keep us alive during the off-season. For us to grow to the big time, we’d have to move to a big city or move online. Our family is here, so we’re staying here and moving online. Someday, I’d love to have a steakhouse or a bigger deli, but we’ll always do the meat here.”

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