What People Want

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the best way to offer some sort of paid service around The Meteor Chef. Really, I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but haven’t quite pinned down how I’d like a service to take shape. As a result of this thinking, I’ve been trying to keep an eye out for unique experiences I have during the day; looking for qualities that I’d like my own service to reflect.

Yesterday, I decided to visit a local butcher shop. I’d seen it when we first moved to Oak Park a few months ago, and it caught my eye because of the logo, their location (tucked away in an almost “secret location”), and that they mentioned fish as a specialty. Craving some sort of fish yesterday, I decided to give them a try. Walking into the shop was interesting. It was a tiny space, containing three coolers and a set of tall refrigerators off to the side. It was just big enough to fit the staff, their equipment, and a handful of customers.

Aesthetics aside—they’d noticeably cared for how everything looked—what really struck me was the service. When I walked in, I ambled a bit and then stood in front of the fish cooler with a look of confusion. I saw a few different types of fish that looked good, but wasn’t sure which I wanted. Without prompting, one of the butchers spotted me and walked over to ask if I needed help.

I mentioned that I did, and wanted to get a filet of salmon, but wasn’t sure about how to prepare it. I asked if he could scale it for me, to which he smiled and said “of course.” He proceeded to pull out a long filet from the cooler and place it on a cutting board that was exposed to customers by a pane of glass.

As he removed small bones from the fish—almost like a butchers equivalent of needlepoint—he asked about how I was going to cook it. I said I’d considered cooking it in the oven in a pan, or outside on the grill. He nodded, expressed a personal preference for the oven/pan combination, and then offered some guidance on how to cook it on the grill.

He raised his voice just a bit and explained “three things when grilling fish. Hot, Clean, Oil.” I smirked, listening to his instructions. “Make sure the grill is really clean. Take a wire brush and really clean the grill. This is the most important part. Next, take a brush with some oil and coat the grill. This will help with stickiness and evenness of the grilling. Finally, get the grill really hot. Cook about 4-5 minutes a side.”

I scrambled to mentally record what he was telling me. As he finished trimming the salmon and removing the skin (he later explained that they pre-scale the fish but could remove the skin for me), he bagged up the fish and then gestured we walk over to the far side of the shop where he could wrap and weigh the fish.

As he did, he asked if I needed anything else and when I mentioned an interest in poking around, he nodded and said “yeah, go for it” with a smile. I did and ended up grabbing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to pair with the fish. After I’d explored, I walked up to the counter where another butcher rang me up.

“Just the salmon and the chips?” he asked. “Yep” I said, to which he smiled and swooned “ah, a man after my own heart!” I grinned and chuckled a bit as he finished “a little bit of healthy and a little junk food,” flipping the register over for me to sign (they had a Square Register). I signed with my finger, swiping across the screen like checking an item off my list. He bagged everything up, slid it over, and said “enjoy.”

Despite being inexperienced and regardless of it being my first time in their shop: I felt welcome. They noticeably cared about how I experienced their business, and that I walked away confident with the information I needed to prepare a good meal. They smiled, were friendly, and made me feel like I could cook the fish to perfection, without ever muttering a word about doing so.

Walking out of the shop, I realized: this is what people want. An end-to-end experience that’s friendly, helpful, and leaves you feeling better or more informed than you were when you walked in. We only spent ten minutes together, but that short time was enough to make me not just eager to go back, but to pass along their name whenever I’m asked “who is the best butcher in town?”