The Local Butcher Shop
The Local Butcher Shop brings employee ownership to the table
Project Equity was proud to assist The Local Butcher Shop, located in Berkeley, CA, with their transition to employee ownership in October 2021. Owners Monica and Aaron Rocchino wanted to transfer the shop to their employees in order to keep their legacy and mission going as they prepared to step back from the business to focus on raising their family.
Project Equity continues to support The Local Butcher Shop’s employee-owners after their transition through our Thrive program.
Monica and Aaron Rocchino, former owners of The Local Butcher Shop
A successful business providing locally-sourced and sustainable meat, serving the local community, and now an employee-owned business The Local Butcher Shop is winning at the triple bottom line–profit, people, and the planet.
In 2009, restaurant industry veterans Monica and Aaron Rocchino were ready for a change. They wanted to get away from the restaurant world’s grueling hours, they wanted to make a direct impact on their community, and they wanted to solve a problem that had been bothering them: where could they go to find locally sourced, sustainably raised meat like they used at work, but for home cooking?
“We wanted to feel good about the food we were eating,” said Aaron. “We had a hard time finding meat that we felt good about and could trust where it was coming from.” They realized that if they were having this problem, others were too.
The Rocchinos started building relationships with the farmers who were sourcing these types of meat for the restaurants where they worked. In 2011, they opened The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, CA, to offer the local community a butcher shop that was a cut above the competition.
A recipe for sustainability
“It all starts with the farmers we choose to work with,” said Scott Miller, the general manager. “These farmers use regenerative practices, meaning they raise animals on open pastures, letting them work the land and soil into something that sequesters carbon dioxide and retains more water, which helps to fight climate change and drought.”
The Local Butcher Shop buys whole animals and breaks them down in-house. They use every part of the animal, turning anything that cannot be made into retail cuts into soups, charcuterie, and other items. Everything else is turned into products like soaps and dog treats to ensure that nothing is wasted.
What has made this a successful business for the past decade has been both the quality of the products and the quality of care and customer service. Loyal customers form lines out the door to get locally and sustainably-sourced meat and animal products, as well as to get tips and tricks from the butchers about what meat or cut of meat to use for a recipe.
“All of our employees are talented,” said Derek Calpito, a butcher at the shop. “Everyone has high standards and is committed to protecting the environment and offering the best product to our customers. Wanting to go that extra step for our customers is what solidifies us and makes us one of the best butcher shops in the Bay Area, period.”
The level of care that employees bring to their jobs is no accident. The Rocchinos intentionally built a culture where the employees can grow, learn, and take on more responsibilities at the shop. They put an emphasis on transparency and would take employees on field trips to meet the farmers and ranchers they work with.
By creating a culture where employees can grow and involve themselves in the operations of the business, the Rocchinos set the stage for the shop’s eventual transition to employee ownership.
Keeping the legacy
After a decade of growing their business while simultaneously starting a family, the Rocchinos decided the time was right for them to step away as owners to focus more on family life. They knew that selling their business on the open market could be a risky prospect. An outside buyer could change their business significantly, moving it away from their mission of sustainability, severing ties with their suppliers, or eliminating the jobs they had created.
The Rocchinos wanted to preserve the legacy, passion, and mission of the business they had built. Employee ownership was the perfect solution. It would allow the Rocchinos to step away from the business on their terms and leave it in the hands of the people who made it what it is, and whom they had been grooming for leadership all along: their employees. “We were able to create a really good crew that is responsible and really loves and enjoys what they do— and has just as much respect for the products as we do,” said Aaron.
“Having the possibility of selling to the employees and sustaining the legacy—without having to change our employee structure, change any farmers or ranchers, and continue to keep our community serviced with well-sourced meat—was a no-brainer,” shared Monica.
What Project Equity brings to the table
In January 2021, the Rocchinos asked Project Equity to help them with the transition to a worker cooperative. After the initial consultation, and determining that they were positioned for success, Project Equity was able to help them get a grant through the City of Berkeley that offset a portion of the transition cost.
Project Equity guided them through the transition, from feasibility to the final sign-off. David Gray from Project Equity worked with the owners and transition team every step of the way. “David has been an amazing instructor and has been so patient,” Monica said. “He has created a space every week for the crew, where he shepherded their thoughts and creativity into a clear path.”
Project Equity was able to help The Local Butcher Shop complete their transition in just nine months and achieve their goal of finishing before the holiday rush, all while conducting the entire process remotely due to COVID-19 concerns. The Local Butcher Shop’s work culture had already primed them for embracing employee ownership.
While in Project Equity’s Transition Program, Project Equity helped build a transition team, fostering cohesion by working together on projects, walking them through how to establish bylaws, run board meetings, structure governance, fill out loan applications, meet with lenders and create a business plan.
“I can’t say enough good things about Project Equity,” Monica said. “The folks knew when to hold our hands and walk us through baby steps and knew when it was the right time to let us figure it out. There is a lot to be learned along the way no matter what experience you have. Project Equity made it fun. It was a lot of work, but it was also fun.”
The Local Butcher Shop completed its transition in October of 2021 and secured transaction financing from Project Equity’s Employee Ownership Catalyst Fund, which supports businesses that want to transition to employee ownership and need capital to finance the transition and transaction.
Following the completion of their transition, The Local Butcher Shop enrolled in Project Equity’s Thrive program, which helps newly employee-owned companies develop a robust ownership culture to get the most out of their new structure.
From employees to owners
Becoming an owner of the store after working as an employee for several years comes with both excitement and obligations. “It’s going to give me a lot more responsibilities,” Calpito said. “But more responsibilities also gives me purpose.”
Caleb Avalos, a butcher at The Local Butcher Shop, feels he has learned a lot in the process from starting in 2017 as an employee, then becoming part of the transition team, and now becoming an owner. “Going through the transition process with Project Equity, and now becoming an owner is going to help me navigate anything I plan to do in the future,” he said.
The food industry is known for high employee turnover, which has only been exacerbated by the widespread retention issues that have stemmed from the COVID-19 crisis. Becoming employee-owned can give businesses like The Local Butcher Shop a step up when looking to recruit and retain employees.
“We think that by becoming worker-owned we can attract more employees in the food industry because we will truly value them as they are and everything they bring to the table,” shared butcher Koji Fujioka. “They will be able to focus on their own success as well as the success of the business, something that isn’t very common in the food industry.”
Now that the employees have become owners, the layer of sustainability at The Local Butcher Shop includes its employees being able to live more sustainably in the Bay area—one of the most expensive places in the U.S. Having profit-sharing can make it realistic to stay local, which not only helps the employees but also helps the community.
“Employee-owned businesses help support the local ecosystem,” said Gray at Project Equity. “Both the business and the employees stay rooted in the community.”
The future looks sharp
When a business like The Local Butcher Shop becomes employee-owned, the benefits are widespread. The Rocchinos get to protect their legacy, the employees get a financial stake in the success they helped to create, the business stays intact and stays local while providing even better job opportunities than before, and the shop’s many loyal customers get to keep patronizing a beloved part of their community–now with the added perk of knowing every purchase directly supports the people behind the counter.
Even the business’ partners and suppliers see the benefit. They get to maintain a valuable relationship beyond the tenure of the founders and know that they are working with people who truly care about what they do.
“We’re really excited about The Local Butcher Shop transitioning to a coop,” said Maddie Perry, an employee at Marin County, CA’s Stemple Creek Ranch, one of Local Butcher Shop’s suppliers. “Knowing the employees will be taking on the business and not some big company makes us feel comfortable about our continued relationship and the future of The Local Butcher Shop.”
Monica and Aaron Rocchino poured their hearts, souls, and over 10 years of their lives into creating and growing a business that was successful, sustainable, and took care of both its customers and employees. Employee ownership was the ideal way to keep that vision going even as they entered the next chapter in their lives.
“Selling to the employees means keeping the mission of the business going long after the founders aren’t working there anymore,” Monica said. “It ensures that there’s some consistency and a future that the owners can be proud of and look back and say, ‘yeah I founded that, and look where it is today. It still has all of our fingerprints all over it but it’s also grown into a life of its own.’”