“I don’t buy my meat anywhere but here,” declares Rayanne, a long-time loyal customer of Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market who enters the over 60 year-old neighborhood butcher shop with her daughter. “I’ve been coming here forever. I started as a little girl with my Mom.”
Two years ago her mother passed away and Rayanne lost not only her mother but the collection of beloved family recipes that were never recorded.
“I lost her recipes,” she wistfully recalls. “But Frank gives me his recipes.”
Frank Ottomanelli, 70, owner of the classic West Village meat market along with his two brothers Joe and Gerry, makes a point of reading the New York Times cooking section frequently, collecting recipes and cooking tips to pass along to his customers.
Frank, shrugs off the praise. “I like to cook, and Rayanne needs help,” he says.
This passion and dedication to their customers is what sets the 4th generation family-owned business apart from its competitors and results in generations of family members patronizing the shop, which specializes in exotic meats like alligator and bison in addition to the standard fare.
“I take care of them,” says Joe, 58. “Their children come in here and become customers.”
“I’m a second generation customer,” offers a girl in hers 20s. She’s been frequenting Ottomanelli and Sons for years and says she appreciates the neighborhood feel along with the butchers’ “superior” knowledge and products.
The relationships that they have built and cultivated over time – through generously sharing their detailed meat expertise and more personal chats about relatives and New York Giants games – help the business maintain consistency financially as costs rise throughout the West Village and other long-time shops close their doors. Along with their retail store they also have a wholesale division.
“We’re a one-on-one butcher,” Frank says as many regulars mill around the store placing their orders for holiday turkeys and steaks for dinner. “We’ve been to our customers’ weddings and funerals. We get attached.”
Despite the 13 hour days which start at 4a.m., the brothers say they haven’t made any adjustments as they’ve aged.
“Your body gets used to it,” says Joe. “It gets immune. You just keep trying, that’s it.”
“What keeps me going is lots of red meat and red wine,” says Frank. “And you drink a lot of coffee,” he says while holding up a cup as evidence. It helps tremendously that the brothers share the burden and all have specific roles says Frank, who handles the fresh hanging meats which include veal, beef, lamb and pork. “We divide responsibilities.”
Like any family they have their share of issues, but working together has been worth it and essential to the survival of the shop.
“We work with knives, but we don’t kill each other,” says Frank. “We have our ups and downs. The bottom line is we’re family. We come in together, we go home together.”
Frank’s father taught him the trade and he and his brothers worked their way up from bicycle delivery boys to butchers. When the time came, he also trained his son, Mathew who is the 4th generation to work at the shop.
As much as he’d love him to keep the family business going, Frank is not sure if Matthew would – or could – take it over eventually. “I don’t know. I would like to think so. Where would I get my meat? I’d help. He’s my son,” he says. “But he’s only 1 person.”
They have some time to decide; Frank does not plan on retiring any time soon. “What would I do?” he says. “It’s been in our blood for generations.”
“It’s the customers that keep us going” says Joe. “There’s humanity to it. People can buy meat at the supermarket but it’s not the same.”
“We’re loyal to our customers, and the customers are loyal to us,” says Frank.