This little business profile is of a business far from Eat Boutique’s beloved New England roots, but close to my heart and home. Based in Austin, Texas, this gem of a butcher shop has been quietly growing and thriving. Salt & Time supports local agriculture, the craft of full-animal butchery, sustainable practices – and puts out some pretty incredible food to boot.
There’s a palpable energy current running through the slick, cement-and-glass interior of Salt & Time the morning of my visit. There’s meat to display, sausage to be made, cold cuts to be shaved, sandwiches to assemble, and animals to be broken down. As a half dozen mustached and bearded men strap on knife belts and delicately fill light casings with fennel sausage, I look around and take note of a couple idiosyncrasies.
A stack of old butchery books with cracking spines is on proud display, they’ve run out of lard and tallow in the front cooler, and every single employee that’s working is the butcher of your dreams. I’m being serious. Facial hair is out in full force, along with tall and sturdy frames, impressive forearms, large white aprons, and big, crinkly smiles to melt even the iciest heart.
So when founder Ben Runkle arrives, I’m actually struck by how out of place he appears – he’s clean shaven, not the size of a tree, and wearing distinctly hipster clothing. My instincts were half right – Salt & Time began as a charcuterie stand run by Runkle in Austin Farmers Markets, and expanded to a full butcher shop later down the line. Nowadays, Runkle breaks down numbers and ideas more often than whole hogs, which is the domain of business partner Bryan Butler (long-time butcher) who entered when Salt & Time started gaining steam.
It all started with veganism. Well, it began with the environmental consciousness of veganism, which drove Runkle to produce truly great cured meats – or salumi, as Ben prefers – from animals that had been raised sustainably and with care. He started selling in 2009, and the people just couldn’t get enough; there was so much interest and steady business that a conversation about a retail spot had to be started. Three years, a kickstarter campaign, and a lot of prosciutto later, Salt & Time opened its brick-and-mortar store in February of 2012.
All the meat is sourced from a group of farms in Comanche County, and everything is broken down in-house, then processed in-house, and sold directly to customers. It’s vertical integration at its finest, with a strict policy of no waste.
“We try to utilize absolutely everything. We fry our fries in tallow fat, and our fried chicken in lard, not because its popular, but because that’s the cooking fat we have access to on a daily basis” Ben explains.
Oh, just one more thing. Salt & Time is a restaurant too, selling lighter fare for lunch (if you call a muffuletta sandwich light) and a dinner menu at night.
“That’s the truly wonderful thing about having a butcher shop attached to a restaurant.You can make food that other places can’t. You can experiment with different cuts and flavors, and nothing goes into the garbage bin,” Runkle says smiling. I get the feeling he likes being efficient.
But for all that efficiency, Salt & Time isn’t skimping on supporting local artisans. The Salumeria employs close to twenty people, and thirteen of them are butchers (I see three of them sharpening knives in the back). I’m lucky, since today is hog day, and I’m invited to watch Bryan, Edwin, and Ren break down a shipment of three whole Red Wattle Hogs (a heritage Texan breed) in the actual butchering space.
Six pink and white pig halves are unloaded from a truck in the back, muscled into the cool room, and hung up on hooks, each the size of a young teenager. Then the real work begins. Somehow slight, red-haired Ren – proclaimed by Bryan to be a butchery prodigy – manages to gracefully hold half his weight in pig and slice it in half, working around rib bones and awkward angles with skill. The half transforms into a quarter, and then the head is removed, the shoulder disengaged, the ribcage cleanly separated.
It strikes me how appropriate the label artisan is, because this is truly art. Clearly it’s the result of practice and skill, and downright entrancing to watch. It’s also a hard skill to come by. Edwin, black-bearded and rocking a red headband, had never dealt with whole animals before Salt & Time.
“A lot of our butchers worked in grocery stores and places like Costco before. They still call it butchering, but the animals come cut up, and you can’t tell customers where they came from or how they were treated,” Bryan says.
Salt & Time is a world away from such ambiguity. There’s a respect and an openness to their process I find myself responding to – the whole animal, raised to Salt & Time’s high standards, broken down by craftsmen, sold to home cooks and customers, nothing wasted. When an older woman walks in and asks what Bryan has for her today, I start to understand the community that holds this place up. A community of craftsmen, a community of locavores, a community open and supportive of such a mutually beneficial venture.
People who are willing to take a little time, and enjoy good salt on good meat.
Salt and Time is located in Austin, Texas, at 1912 East 7th Street.
Photos taken by Amy Feiereisel.
Eat Boutique discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers. We share recipes, maker stories and city guides to eating boutique. We host tasting events and markets for food makers, cookbook authors and food fans. We craft seasonal, regional gift and tasting boxes and sell individual items that you can order in the Eat Boutique Shop. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest.
Eat Boutique was an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista – an author, business guide and alignment seeker. After hosting retail markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie now supports entrepreneurs as they create values-based businesses through We Are Magic Studio. Follow Maggie Battista on Instagram.