Building a family butcher shop from the ground up

The butcher and his apprentice. (Photo Credit: D'Aubin family)

The butcher, Ralph D’Aubin, at right, with his son, Jacob. (Photo Credit: D’Aubin family)

Crazy and amazing are two words Jennifer D’Aubin repeats often when telling her story.

The words seem apt considering what has been happening to D’Aubin and her husband Ralph recently.

About a year ago, the Bridgetown couple decided to pursue a long-held dream of working for themselves. The dream will come to life as D’Aubin Family Meats, a retail space set to open within weeks, specializing in locally raised and produced meats. The couple will also slaughter, process and cut meat for local farmers.

“People appreciate the way Ralph treats the animals,” says D’Aubin of her husband. “He is gentle with them and respectful in the process. All the people who come see him have only a few animals, so they want them cared for.”

Although Ralph has more than 15 years of experience as a butcher, he says it has, “mostly been what you could call a hobby. I’ve worked as a meat cutter in local grocery stores over the years, drove cement trucks and tractor trailers, but I always seem to come back to this.”

After a former neighbour and farmer asked Ralph to help slaughter a cow, he soon became known as the guy to talk to if you had a few animals that needed to be put down in a kind and efficient manner.

“The thing about Ralph is, apart from being an absolutely excellent butcher, he’s also a really calm and considerate guy to work with as far as the pigs are concerned,” says John Wright, a local farmer. “The pigs are not stressed in any way and we think that makes our meat that much better.”

Helping friends and local farmers when it came time for slaughter was fine, but soon the D’Aubins wanted to do more and thought of opening an abattoir and retail space.

“Our business is going to be a family affair,” says Ralph. “Our kids are going to be out there helping us, as you’ll see.”

From left: Katelyn, Ralph, Haley, Christie, Jacob, and Jennifer D'Aubin. (Photo Credit: D'Aubin family)

From left: Katelyn, Ralph, Haley, Christie, Jacob, and Jennifer D’Aubin. (Photo Credit: D’Aubin family)

The D’Aubin children – Katelyn, Christie, Haley and Jacob – have already been helping their parents make and sell sausages with meat sourced from local farmers. These have been a big hit at the local farmers’ market and propelled the dream of D’Aubin Family Meats.

“It came from this desire of Ralph’s,” says D’Aubin. “He’s great with people and animals and I want to see my community prosper. I’m in for the long haul. So we decided to pool our strengths.” And that’s when the crazy and amazing started.

“We launched our Facebook page in September 2013, and we had 400 likes in the first 48 hours, and close to 800 in a week,” says D’Aubin. Next, the family created a campaign to seek crowdfunding for their upcoming business.

The fundraising campaign explained to potential supporters that there are, at present, no provincially inspected abattoirs within 60 miles (100 kms) of Bridgetown, forcing farmers to use substandard means to deal with their animals, or travel great distances at a cost to them and the animals. “Many farmers in our area are even considering not raising animals in the future if there are not adequate ways to deal with them,” the appeal continued.

The campaign netted $12,000 from 114 contributors, 90 of whom the D’Aubins knew personally. This outpouring of community support was critical to motivate the family to go after their goal.

It also seemed that luck was on their side. The couple was expecting to spend about $65,000 to equip their abbatoir, but a business in Amherst was selling their equipment, at an asking price of only $15,000. The trick was having to pick it up in Amherst, or have it delivered, which would be costly. “A local guy who owns an eel fishery approached us and said, ‘If you kill my pigs, I’ll go to Amherst and get that equipment for you,” recalls D’Aubin.

One of the D'Aubin daughters, Christy, raises chickens for eggs. (Photo Credit: D'Aubin family)

The D’Aubins’ new home has an acreage for hobby farming. (Photo Credit: D’Aubin family)

More good luck followed soon. The family found and bought a new homestead that included an acreage for hobby farming, and a 600 square foot retail space that could be retrofitted into the new home for D’Aubin Family Meats. This find saved them time and money by eliminating the need to construct a new space for their future business.

With more financing still needed, another gift landed in their laps in April. “A friend of ours approached us and sat at our kitchen table and said, ‘How much do you need?’ We said ‘$125,000’,” D’Aubin recalls. She offered to show the friend a condensed version of their business plan, but he shooed it away.

“He never looked at it,” she says.

The angel investor lent them the money with no payment for the first year, 3% interest, and no involvement in how the day-to-day operations of the business were conducted. He simply told the D’Aubins that he had been watching Ralph work for two years, and said he believed in him.

“Things happen to us,” says D’Aubin. Crazy and amazing things. “First the crowdsourcing site, the equipment, the house, and then the money.”

She admits they had to deal with their fair share of pitfalls, and of people saying no, but it seems there have been more people helping than hindering. Most of those people are members of the community D’Aubin has always called home.

“I have come to realize that this is my town and that gives us an extra edge. This wouldn’t have happened in a large city. It just wouldn’t have. It is a rural story.”

wiles_clrThis is the sixth in a year-long series of articles about family farming in Atlantic Canada made possible by Wile’s Lake Farm Market. The United Nations has designated 2014 the International Year of Family Farming.

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