A New Age Butcher’s Take on a Nostalgic Industry

The concept of going to the butcher shop to fetch your meat is entirely nostalgic in today’s world of mega marts and one-stop grocery stores. Gone are the days of visiting multiple locations to collect eggs, vegetables, meats, and dairy – or are they?

If you ask William Carithers, the Master Butcher at Willy’s Butcher Shop, he will assure you that you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the nostalgia is one of his favorite aspects of the business. For him, it’s about bringing back the old world charm while providing exceptional product for his modern customers.

Formally trained as a chef at Johnson and Wales University, Willy’s passion for butchering developed in his very first butchering class. He was inspired by the process and later came to enjoy the technicality involved in providing chefs with the perfect cut to produce high-end cuisine.

Upon graduating as a chef, Willy took a meandering route to his current destination. He worked at Earth Fare in the meat department, in a mom and pop USDA slaughterhouse, and even held a few roles as a chef along the way. His vast experience ultimately led him back to the place his passions first arose: The butcher block.

What led Willy to his butcher shop

Just as the economy was taking a turn for the worst in 2008, Willy took a run at opening a high-end, all organic meat shop called Carither’s. Though Carither’s didn’t make it through the financial crisis, Willy knew he would eventually open another shop.

In the summer of 2013, he did just that. Willy put Carither’s behind him and opened the doors to Willy’s Butcher Shop. This time, he opted for a location a bit off the beaten path, explaining that those looking for a butcher shop will seek him out. He’s confident that a trip to procure meat is intentional and not something one does on impulse.

Securing his desired location was trickier than anticipated. After losing the first property he had his eye on, he began looking at listings that had yet to be put on the market. While other locations had been presented in various neighborhoods, he was determined to locate in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Homberg, just outside of downtown Knoxville, Tenn. It was important that the location offer the same nostalgic feel he was determined to provide for his customers.

After much debate with landlords and the task of outfitting his location, Willy had finally secured the new home for his butcher shop and began preparations for the public.

Back of House Willy's Butcher Shop

What to expect from a new age butcher

When you walk through the doors at Willy’s you’re likely to be greeted by New Jersey native and retired optician, Stan. Moving to Knoxville to semi-retire, Stan began working with Willy shortly after the shop opened. Now, you’ll catch him manning the meat counter between making batches of artisan sausage.

At Willy’s you can choose from poultry, pork, lamb, beef, and elk among other meats brought in upon request or for special occasions. The shop is also equipped with a dry aging room where Willy ages meats up to 130 days. He utilizes his culinary background to educate the community on the impact of dry aging and the best options for preparing the prime meat.

He explained that, “The process allows enzymes in the meat to break down muscle fiber making it highly palatable. It’s all about controlled humidity levels, time, and temperature. These ensure the process works well.” If you do opt to try the aged beef, he suggests you reduce your cooking time for optimal flavor.

In addition to the standard cuts, Willy prides himself on his wide variety of house-made sausages comprised entirely of Heritage, Berkshire pork. This fast growing segment of the business is where his passions really take hold. For Willy, it’s a “fascination with the chemistry.”

Depending on the day, you can expect anywhere between five and ten unique sausage options including the two most popular: the Toulouse and the roasted red pepper and provolone. The Toulouse is a French inspired sausage typically used in cassoulet.

Knives from Willy's Butcher Shop

What to expect in the coming months

Looking to the future of his budding business, Willy is focused on expanding his sausage production and developing more distribution channels and large accounts. His main focus will be on the manufacturing of pork products for a local pork operation but he’s looking forward to serving the local restaurant community as well.

Averaging 150 customers and over 300 pounds of sausage each week, Willy is well on his way to becoming a Knoxville staple. He reflected on his business expressing, “It’s an old world, dying industry but I just may have a chance of revitalizing the lost art in this farm-to-table culture.”

If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by Willy’s Butcher Shop at 5115 Homberg Drive, Knoxville, Tennessee. The shop is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 to 4:30.

Chelsea B. Sanz
Chelsea B. Sanz

Chelsea Sanz has lived in East Tennessee since her family moved here from South Florida just before she started high school. While she initially begrudged her new home state, she eventually realized she had come to not only love it, but to “bleed orange” as University of Tennessee Volunteers fans here like to say. She and her boyfriend Hunter, a trail worker for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy exploring the nation’s most visited national park and coming up with their own farm-to-table recipes.

Connect with Chelsea B. Sanz on Google+
  1. June 09, 2014 at 7:35 pm, Ryan Scott said:

    Best steaks in town can be purchased from Willy's.