How Did West Side Beef Get Started?

Sometimes you just want a steak. You don’t want to think about where it came from, how it was made if it’s safe or full of antibiotics, ethical, local, dry-aged… All you really want is that first perfect bite – crispy on the outside, melting and pink in the middle. 

Or maybe it’s short-ribs braised until they’re falling apart on a bed of creamy mash. Whatever food you dream about, sometimes you just want to enjoy the thing and not have to think about it so much.

But maybe, like me, you’ve learned some things about food and how it’s made that you can’t unlearn. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma started us down a path of trying to find food that we could feel good about eating without having to interrogate my butcher or spend a fortune, and it was a rocky path. I’d just about given up when I bumped into a guy I used to know named Ryan Donovan. It’d been years since I’d seen him and since then he’d been to chef school and then trained as a butcher.

“I wish I could just get something good from a farmer,” I told him. I said I wanted something that was raised by somebody who cared about what they did and charged a fair price. He blinked and said, “I know some farmers” and from there it just sort of fell together. I called friends and told them I had a lead on some good beef: no drugs, no feedlots and dry aged until it tasted the way it was supposed to. We got a side, Ryan butchered and delivered it, but I had more friends than there was beef to go around so we got another side, and then another… Eventually, Ryan pointed out that we sort of had a business here so I got some very talented friends to help us create a logo and I whipped up a website. Before I knew it there was a BlogTO article and my inbox had about a hundred people asking for a “box of beef’. Eventually, Ryan and I welcomed our friend Carl Heinrich into the fold officially and he brought a level of knowledge and dedication beyond what I could have asked for. Carl took something delicious and made it better still (stuffing the burgers with braised beef was kind of amazing).

It was the solution to my problem. I didn’t need an organic sticker because I knew where my food was coming from. I learned all the details of why it was so good, about the breed, what they ate, how old they were and how long we dry aged the sides, but most people just said it was the best beef they’d ever tasted and left it at that. In the end that was my favourite part, going through each person’s order with them one cut at a time, talking about all the things they were going to make and hearing about what they’d made the time before.

West Side Beef wasn’t really anyone’s idea, it just sort of happened because there were a lot of people like me that needed it, and I couldn’t be happier that it did.

  • Kurt Krumme