A new butcher shop on Frederick Douglass Boulevard is reviving the West Harlem meat market, one fresh cut at a time.
Harlem Shambles, which opened on Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 116th Street this winter, sells grass-fed cuts sourced from local farms and butchered on the premises daily.
“We get a lot of positive feedback from the people here in the neighborhood,” owner Tim Forrester said. “It’s been a while since there was a butcher here, so people are telling us that this is the kind of meat they are looking for, that they have been trying to buy.”
The first few months of business have been spent adapting to the demand in the West Harlem meat market and “ramping up and expanding the product line” with sausages, meat pies made in-house, and various stocks and fresh bread.
The past few years have been a period of major growth on Frederick Douglass, with eateries such as Harlem Tavern, known for its outdoor patio, Lido, and 5 and Diamond all taking root in the area.
Among the growth, however, there have been some closings as well. Nectar, a wine bar, closed in early March, and Society, a café, closed last fall.
The development of the boulevard also has its critics, who see the character of the neighborhood disappearing as high-end businesses hike up prices, pushing out locals.
To foster the sometimes-contentious growth, the owners of businesses along the boulevard from 110th to 124th streets formed the Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance earlier this year to promote the boulevard as the gateway to Harlem, keeping the street attractive and supporting each other’s businesses.
That supportive atmosphere has made it easier on Forrester and his team to get the independent business up and running. “I just really liked the neighborhood. I liked the vibe,” he said. “Walking around the neighborhood, I liked the energy of the people around on the sidewalk enjoying the day, and I liked the other businesses that were coming up. It was a good fit.”
Forrester came to the meat industry after spending a few years doing equity research, which he said soon got boring.
“This was something I was thinking about for a while, so I just sort of went for it,” he said.
Locals conscious of the quality of their meat have welcomed the business, and the shop has been gaining regulars, according to Forrester.
Hans Hageman, Law ’83, a regular at Harlem Shambles, said the customer service is an important part of the experience for him.
“The service is great. They know us. They know what we like,” he said. “There are some things that I have never tried before, and they’re very informative in terms of giving advice or their opinions on how to cook kidneys, for instance.”
Debora Choi, a West Harlem resident, said she previously had to take the subway to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market when she wanted to purchase grass-fed meat.
“It was not the most convenient,” she said.
Forrester said he is optimistic about the area’s potential for further development, especially with the attention it is receiving now.
“I think it’s a great time to open up a business. There’s a benefit to having other new restaurants coming up, and new businesses bring a lot of attention to the neighborhood,” he said. “There are a lot of different buildings going up that are bringing a lot more people into Harlem, so I think the timing is great.”