Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Artisans Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada of Lindy & Grundy
Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start?
Erika Nakamura: My background is as a chef. I went to the French Culinary Institute in New York City. I was born and raised in Tokyo but moved to New York when I was young. After I graduated culinary school, I did the NYC cooking circuit and it all felt too much for me in a lot of ways. I cooked at Aquavit, Oceana, The Grocery, [Blue Hill at] Stone Barns—when Josh [Lawler] was the chef de cuisine. That was the first place I was doing more butchery things.
Amelia Posada: We got into it together. I was a floral designer on the Upper East Side in New York City, working for an events company and Erika invited me up to train with master butchers in the Hudson Valley. We trained at Fleisher’s in Kingston; we used to live in Olive Branch.
AB: Erika, how did you start to get focused on butchery?
EN: I started training first and realized what needed to happen in terms of a butcher shop. Amelia [Posada] has always been there with me every minute. We decided to open a shop. We decided to go head first into it. It was a phenomenal experience to do something so whole heartedly in such a condensed environment and so passionately.
We were at Fleisher’s for about a year [2009-10] doing our apprenticeship. It was with an end goal of doing this [Lindy & Grundy]. It was very deliberate. Amelia is from L.A., so the idea was, if we were going to do something like this, we didn't want to do it in a place like New York that is already very saturated and it's a very small community. We didn't want to step on any toes.
AB: What about a butcher shop attracted you?
EN: In a kitchen environment, a lot of the meat that's sourced isn't done locally or ethically. While it's important for pricing, it made it really difficult to tear open big bags of hanger steaks or fillets knowing that there are only a few per animal. That became a big issue for me in that work environment. I was a vegetarian for about 7 years on and off.
AP: I was a vegetarian for 14 years and that's what really sparked my interest in this movement. The first hamburger I ever ate was during my butcher apprenticeship with meat that we had butchered right there.
AB: What preparations did you make before making the move to L.A. and opening up the shop?
AP: Three years ago Erika and I drove across the country. I started social media profiles for us, following journalists, chefs, and other people in town to create a presence for us before we landed.
AB: Did you know about the market here already?
AP: I literally spent months in the back of a butcher shop in Kingston downloading articles, calling every place that sells meet in the state of California, pretending to be a culinary student in my meat-fats class and doing a report on butchering in the industry. I wanted to know what was going on, where they're getting their meat, who's buying it, what they're buying, if it's whole carcass? Then I started doing the same thing with farmers. Very carefully, we narrowed it down to a few slaughter houses and farmers that shared the same philosophies towards animals, agriculture, and food when it comes to sustainability and raising everything organically.
AB: When you did that research, what did you find was already here?
AP: There was one butcher shop in San Francisco getting in some whole animals, Avedano’s. We were and still are the only ones in Southern Californian. They were still supplementing and weren't getting in the whole animal all the time and now they are.
Now [at Lindy & Grundy], we have hundreds of regulars, other butcher shops are coming to town—one just opened up. We're selling to restaurants and some are taking in whole animals—they get pigs and beef from us. We don't sell cuts wholesale, we sell whole animals, sausages, and ground meat. Otherwise we can't sustain the retail aspect of what we're doing here.
AB: How have you transitioned from vegetarian to meat eater?
EN: When we first met, Amelia wasn't switched over to eating meat yet. Engaging in learning how to source and having conversations with butchers, speaking with ranchers etc., has really allowed us to become comfortable with eating meat as long as it's been done ethically.
AB: What has been the response in L.A.?
EN: The social media presence allowed us to have a voice in the community before we opened. By the time we were able to get these doors open, we had a tremendous response from the community. It made it a much more comfortable environment to come into. Opening a business is intimidating. You never know how people are going to see you.
AB: What’s the hardest thing you’ve done in your career?
EN: I think one of them was getting this open. I'm 33 and Amelia is 31, but when we opened three years ago, we were like little babies. It was terrifying.
AP: We didn't have mentors or business advisors to guide us. We were passion driven, figuring it out together. We went with our guts and just dove in and set the stage for whole animal butchery in South California.
AB: Who would have been an ideal mentor?
EN: It's hard to say. What's important to know is that it's such a small, niche industry that we all know each other. Over time, I realized we're all just there for each other. Like Michael Sullivan with Blackberry Farms—the butcher and charcutier man—he is a meat guru by all means. We've developed relationships with people and it's all give and take.
AB: Your offerings, how do you decide what you’ll put on, and figure out what's popular?
EN: What's wild about the menu development is it's become a much more fluffed up thing as we've come along. At first, it took a lot of education over the counter, trying so hard to explain to everyone what's good, what’s weird and crazy, and what makes us so special.
AP: Our customers trust me. The way we've designed our meat case is very intentional, we're guiding the consumer. When you first walk in, you see chuck roast, sirloin, mince.
We think of what we have excess of and that's what initiates our products. We’re more of a retail establishment than anything else. We are a destination butcher shop.