James Lum: JM Stock Provisions & Supply

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Editor’s note: JM Stock Provisions & Supply (Stock) is a whole-animal butcher shop and market, specializing in quality local ingredients, located in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

We have never been to JM Stock Provisions & Supply, but our Virginia friends (who know) all say that these guys have it goin’ on.

They offer grass-fed, humanely raised meat, fresh produce and delicious prepared foods and they’re committed to making their local food system a whole lot better. 

JM Stock Provisions & Supply is offering the traditional family farm a means to market a quality product and their customers are better off because of it.

Read what James Lum had to say below.

You were working in a Brooklyn kitchen, now you guys are butchers, selling good food in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tell us how this all happened.

James Lum: My partner (Matt Greene) and I have pretty different career arcs.

It’s hard to even call mine a career. Matt is the one with the talent, and he’s imparted a little bit of it on me. Matt started cooking in high school in our hometown of Winchester, Virginia, but really got his chops running kitchens in Richmond during and after college. He moved to Brooklyn to play with the big boys, and did pretty well. After a year or so of the line cook life, however, he was ready for a change.

He was friends with Brent and Ben (from the Meat Hook) back in Richmond and they conveniently needed help around the same time Matt needed work. This was at the same time I moved to New York for an unpaid internship in film and desperately needed some paid work. I knew Matt was a cook, and reached out to him. He said he had a job for me if I wanted it, but it wasn’t glorious. It was washing dishes two days a week.

They’re my favorite people in the world. No one works harder or cares more than small farmers.

Until I walked into The Meat Hook to meet Brent, I thought it was a restaurant. Anyway, I’m rambling. I started washing dishes a couple days a week, and quickly fell in love with The Meat Hook and what it stood for.

Fast forward three years–I was a full time butcher and Matt was back at Marlow & Sons as a sous chef. It was then that we started planning our move south.

What is the most important lesson you learned from hanging at the Meat Hook? How did that inform what you’re doing at your shop in Virginia

JL: The guys up there love to say “good food is fun”, and that’s the most important thing I learned there. Honestly, I think I only half fell in love with butchery and the other half was the infectious environment those guys create.

Taking yourself too seriously is never going to make other people take you seriously. Sure, we’re doing this for a greater reason, and we 100% believe what we’re doing is the right thing, but it’s only worth it if we have fun doing it.

We’ve adapted that slogan to say “good food is for everyone”, because the other thing we learned from them was that good food from sustainable sources should be available to the masses. It’s a big reason we decided to open in a small town. Big city folk aren’t the only people that deserve it.

Do your best to describe the good smells that greet a customer walking into your shop. Tell us a little about your shop’s atmosphere.

JL: Ha! I love this question. It’s the first thing anyone new says when they come in, and I don’t smell it at all anymore.

We do a lot of smoking here, so the shop smells like hickory and smoked meat every day, even if we aren’t smoking that day. We try to keep the shops atmosphere relaxed. We listen to a wide array of music, usually too loud, and usually pretty bad.

We’re all great friends and we hang out outside the store, so when we’re at work it’s not much different than when we’re bellied up at a bar. Lots of ball-busting. Can I say that?

Give us an idea of your mission­–what’s the concept, the philosophy of JM Stock?

JL: Our mission is to offer exceptional food from honest, ethical, and sustainable sources.

This happens to mean small producers from close-by. I really try to avoid buzz words in moments like this. We’re also a source for education. Every person that works here is terribly passionate about what we do and why we do it. We want everyone that walks into our doors to know why they should shop here first, then taste our food and know why they need to shop here. It’s just better.

Have you experienced a difference between your imagined version of the business and the one that has emerged after being opened for a few months?

JL: Oh, my god, yes.

We’re definitely playing the long game here. It’s a hard business to make work, and we’re learning and tweaking things every day. It’s just the way these things go, and we definitely had some unrealistic expectations. It’s not easy convincing people to completely rethink the way they shop and feed their family.

Our country as been lead so far astray for so long that it’s going to take some time to lead it back.

It seems that [besides the great product you’re offering your customers], JM Stock Provisions & Supply is serving up awareness–awareness of good, real food. Talk a little about that.

JL: We obviously source our products very particularly, and we want the community to know why. You’re likely to get a lengthy explanation to seemingly simple questions when talking to our staff. That’s because it’s important.

It’s important to know what you’re putting into your body and who you’re supporting along the way. We also love talking about this thing we do, so we try to set up outside the shop whenever we can–demos, farm-to-table dinners, classes, etc. They’re really what keeps us inspired.

It sounds as though folks are really digging your prepared foods. Was it always part of the plan to offer things such as short ribs stew and black bean chili? How has it propelled JM Stock Provisions & Supply?

JL: That was definitely a big part of the plan, and you can expect to see a lot more of it in the future (wink wink). First of all, you really can’t run a high functioning whole-animal shop without value added items. There is always going to be excess that you need to get creative with.

We also know life gets pretty hectic, and it’s nice to have easy, ready-to-eat options that are made out of the kind of food you want to cook yourselves.

Tell us about your local farmers. One of the producers you work with even mill their own supplemental feed. That’s really going an extra mile.

JL: They’re my favorite people in the world. No one works harder or cares more than small farmers.

We’ve started working with a few more farms than we did when we opened, but they’re all within about 50 miles from the shop. Most are even closer.

Timbercreek Farm is a ten minute drive from the shop, and Autumn Olive is just over the mountain. On delivery day, it’s the guys raising the animals or produce that are dropping it off.

That’s pretty special and maybe unique about being back here in Virginia. We had great relationships with some of our farmers in New York, but they definitely weren’t doing their own deliveries.  

The close relationships we have with these Virginia farmers allow us to offer them feedback that most people won’t or can’t communicate; and they’re always responsive.

We want everyone to grow with us and that means pushing each other a little bit. Our newest supplier is River Oak Farm in Lowesville, Virginia, and we’re really stoked on them. It’s some of the best chicken I’ve ever had, and it’s just a young couple doing all the work. I can’t tell you how much I love supporting folks like these.

Here’s a quote from you guys: “The relationships we have with our customers—especially our regular customers—are great,” says Matt. “They already exceed the relationships I had with customers in New York,” James adds. Talk about relationships with your customers.

JL: I forgot we said that, and I hope my old Brooklyn regulars aren’t offended, especially my girlfriend, whom I met because she used to come into The Meat Hook.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re still such a young shop and have time to devote to individual customers. There are definitely only a few folks who have been coming since day one.

We obviously love these guys. They’ve kept us open! It also may be due to the fact that the people coming into our shop are doing it very intentionally. There are 8 million people in New York City, and 45,000 in Charlottesville. I think you get the idea. It’s small town stuff.

What’s in the water down there in Virginia? Joel Salatin, Forrest Pritchard, Molly Peterson, Bev Eggleston–the list goes on–all produce top-notch products in big time sustainable ways. What’s it like to be in the middle of all that energy?

JL: We are definitely in good company around here. There’s still a lot of work to be done though. You’d be surprised at how few people know who Joel Salatin is down here, and we’re an hour’s drive from Polyface. When you get wrapped up in this world, it’s easy to forget how small it is.

I hope one day that list you just made has a lot more names on it.

James, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to talk to HandPicked Nation. We appreciate it.

JL: Well, thank you for letting me talk about JM Stock Provisions & Supply. It was fun.

Is there a local butcher that provides fresh, delicious in your community?

Photo credit: Martyn Kyle