David Raines’ Flora Butcher Shop specializes in prized Japanese beef known as wagyu
By JACK WEATHERLY
David Raines’ two-decade journey in the culinary world started in Louisiana and led him across three continents, all the way to – Flora.
The Flora Butcher Shop, which opened Monday, specializes in the prized Japanese beef known as wagyu (wag-you.)
It is a beef that is known for its tender and juicy quality.
And its price.
Raines believes he has a business model that will hold the price down by cutting out the middlemen.
That’s because his father, Dr. David Raines, raises the cattle in Louisiana between Vicksburg and Monroe.
It’s a long trail that Raines took from Louisiana, where he grew up, to Europe, Asia and Australia.
He joined the Army right out of high school in Monroe and he was stationed primarily in Mannheim, Germany. He completed his three-year tour and took a degree in history at LSU.
His first idea was to get into international trade, so he learned Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. That didn’t last long, as he found the business “too shady.”
Here is what evolved into a chef’s tour of the globe.
He returned to the States and studied cuisine at Johnson and Wales University in Denver. Afterward, he worked for six months in Japan, where he discovered wagyu.
He returned to post-Katrina New Orleans and worked for Ralph Brennan of the famed restaurant family. Then came Italy, where he studied at Italcook and worked in Florence and the Amalfi Coast. Italy exposed him to the “slow-food” movement where “there was no Sysco,” the food distributor that most restaurants rely on in the United States.
Next was the French Culinary Institute in New York City, so he could learn to make bread equal to that of the Italians. Back to Italy and a job in a one-star Michelin restaurant. Then off to Sydney, Australia, where he worked at Tetsuya’s and then Becasse, where he learned the art of breaking down wagyu carcasses and wasting little.
He worked for famed chef Emril (“Bam! Kick it up a Notch”) Lagasse in New Orleans. Next he was hired as sous chef for celebrated chefs John Folse and Rick Tramanto in opening Restaurant R’Evolution in New Orleans.
He was promoted to chef de cuisine when Folse and Tramanto opened Seafood R’Evolution in Ridgeland in 2014.
“I’m really, really proud of him,” Tramonto said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from Seafood R’Evolution. He said he planned to surprise Raines the next day by showing up at the butcher shop.
“I’ve worked with Dave for four or five years, and ever since I’ve known him he’s always talked about his dream of opening a butcher shop somewhere and support his dad’s farms and needs. He’s always been extremely, extremely passionate about it. To have someone to follow his dream to the finish line is a big deal.”
As proved by Seafood R’Evolution, the Ridgeland/Madison area has the demographics to support top-of-the line dining.
Now Raines is betting that it will support top-cut beef, he said in an interview on the Friday before the boucherie opened on Monday.
Real estate in the town of about 1,800 on the edge of the metropolitan area is cheap, Raines said.
Plus, Chip Estes, who owns a lot of real estate in the town, gave him a great deal, he said.
Which is not to say that he is getting by on the cheap. His investment in the shop tops seven figures, not the least of which because of the walk-in coolers and freezers.
And the meat is not inexpensive.
Steaks range from dry-aged chuck at $9 a pound to dry-aged wagyu porterhouse (“the king daddy of all steaks,” Raines says) at $40.
Wagyu are the only cattle that have the gene that converts stearic acid into oleic acid, he explained. “It’s the healthiest fat you can get. It also makes it juicier.”
While Raines was developing an appreciation of wagyu, his father, Dr. David Raines, was raising beef cattle in the Monroe, La., area and trying to develop the best breed he could. The younger Raines told his father to not try to “reinvent the wheel” — that it was already here.
Over nearly a decade, the elder Raines converted his herds to wagyu. “He took it and ran with it,” Raines said.
Now his supplier is mostly a straight shot up Interstate 20.
New Orleans will be his main market, he said. He already has retail customers in the Jackson area – Parlor Market and The Manship in downtown Jackson and The Mermaid Cafe on Lake Caroline in Madison County.
The front of the shop is stocked with Mississippi products, ranging from craft beer to muscadine juice, to rubs, to knives made from iron – horseshoes or rebar or leaf springs.
Raines offers blue-plate carryouts for $10, such as half-chicken, pot roast, meatballs and spaghetti – to whet appetites for the shop, he said.
Raines said the first two days of operation were surprisingly busy. “We sold 50 plates the first day and more than that the second.”
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