Thistle Meats, a new butcher and charcuterie in Petaluma, Sonoma Co., is the brainchild of Molly Best, a stay-at-home mom with a passion for rearing sheep, and Lisa Modica, a former environmental consultant. Their new shop, on Petaluma Boulevard, opened a few months ago following a year of planning and renovations.
The women, who each have two young children, followed an unusual path to opening their butcher shop. As they tell their story, one reason their partnership works so well becomes clear: Best is energetic and lively, while Modica exudes a calm, Zen-like aura.
Best, a breeder of Dorset sheet, who once contemplated starting up a sheep dairy and being a cheese-maker, had long fantasized about running her own butcher shop, but with young kids, felt it was at least five years from being a reality. Then the stars started to align: Best’s new neighbor (now mentor) turned out to be Francois Vecchio, a Salumiere, Charcutier & Wurstmeister with over 50 years’ experience, and Modica left her job in San Francisco and began to consider her next steps.
The two women started to brainstorm with their friends in January of 2013. “We knew we wanted to do something, but we weren’t quite sure what it was going to be,” says Modica. “Initially, we were going to create a magazine for the local community,” says Best, “but there came a point where I just couldn’t picture myself doing it.”So why butchery – a typically male domain? “We looked at what the Petaluma community needed – definitely not another antique store,” says Modica, “and what the local area could offer us.” Surrounded by local farmers, many who are raising organic, grass-fed animals, combined with the town’s complete lack of a meat store and Best’s butchery interests, it was a no-brainer when a storefront became available on the town’s main street in February 2013.
“We knew we wanted to create a whole animal butcher shop,” says Modica, “and we were confident we could do it really well.” The minute you walk into Thistle Meats you get a strong sense that you’re in a place where quality matters.
The interior was designed by Wylie Price, who was behind State Bird Provision’s recent remodel. Glossy white subway tiles line the walls, there’s an open butchering area in the center and gleaming stainless and glass chiller cabinets create a clean and fresh look. Acknowledging how frequently meat processing happens far from sight in the U.S., Best says: “We didn’t want to hide what we do, so we butcher all our meat right there where everyone can see.”
Equal amounts of real estate are dedicated to the local fresh meat on display – goat, beef, lamb, chicken, duck and rabbit – as to the cured and house-made deli items including mortadella, pepperoni, rillettes and chicken liver pâté. The house-made fresh sausages, including a spicy Merguez, are not to be missed. These offerings are rounded out with local vegetables, eggs and dairy, and wonderful bread, from local baker, Della Fattoria, can be had if you get there early enough.
Excluding themselves, Best and Modica have five employees including three male butchers: a head butcher, a head of cured meats, and a third butcher who focuses on fresh sausage and their popular ‘sandwich of the day’, among other things.
There’s no doubt that Thistle Meats is a boon to the local community and visitors alike, and because of its focus on using the entire animal, there’s a cut of meat available to suit anyone’s budget. “We really want to break down the belief that people can’t afford to eat healthily,” says Best, “and based on our customers’ reactions, I think we’re being successful.”
Thistle Meats is closed on Tuesdays. 160 Petaluma Blvd, North, Petaluma, CA 94952
Tel: (707) 772.5442
(This story first appeared in SF Weekly)