Ruta Smith

In a pristine space tucked off Grove Street, Herd Provisions' unique approach to farming and butchering its own pork and beef not only sets it apart from its peer restaurants in Charleston, it may have helped it weather the pandemic as suppliers and farmers felt the pinch.

Since opening in June 2019, Herd Provisions has steadily grown a customer base with popular lunch and dinner items like fried Brussels sprouts and burgers made with meat from prized White Park cattle. But the coronavirus took a toll on the downtown restaurant, leading to a refocus on their unique, whole-animal butcher shop.

The Wagener Terrace restaurant and market is the culmination of a project that began back in 2004, when owner Alec Bradford opened Leaping Waters Farm in Alleghany Springs, Va. Today, the farm's 300 cows and 40 hogs supply his Charleston restaurant and several others with beef and pork.

According to Bradford, owning the farm that supplies Herd Provisions has allowed them to dodge food supply chain issues during the pandemic. "The vast majority of farmers in the U.S. right now raising pork, chicken or beef typically only raise one type of animal," said Bradford. "We have a vertically integrated food system that's completely independent of the corporate feed system."

The large-scale animal agricultural industry, with feedlots and meat packing plants mostly in the Midwest that supply grocery stores and restaurants, is still reeling from the pandemic. A recent report by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that cattle slaughter has declined 32 percent from its March high. At least 18 processing plants have closed due to the coronavirus, further decreasing production capacity.

By sourcing directly from his own farm, Bradford is able to avoid bottlenecks and keep a handle on costs. "By owning or being influential in every part of the chain all the way to the butcher shop or the dinner plate, we are pretty much able to control the price," said Bradford. "We are not as subjected to price fluctuations. This way I can ensure that the consumer gets the same quality product at a predictable price."

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With eight cuts of beef and 10 cuts of pork for sale by the pound at Herd Provisions, Bradford has seen an uptick in sales as customers focus more on home cooking. "We've seen the retail take off in a way we really couldn't gauge before COVID. We went from doing $200-500 in [retail] sales per week to now when we are doing around $4,000 a week. That's been good for us from a business standpoint to see that there's a demand for it."

Best sellers include Leaping Waters brisket, New York strip steak and chorizo, but added partnerships with other local providers like Fili West Farms and Void Baking Co. have also cushioned sales. GrowFood Carolina has even kept Herd stocked with bags of local produce, available for $25 each.

"We actually just sell Celeste Albers' [Green Grocer] milk at cost, partly to support another farmer but also to provide a service to our guests so that when they're coming in they can get more than just beef, pork and chicken in our butcher shop," said Herd Provisions general manager Christy Campli.

Moving forward, Herd Provisions' retail footprint will be a key part of sustaining the entire business. "I'm most excited to build this retail space out," said Campli. "I think it's really important because it's so unique to Charleston and because we are lucky to have this other revenue stream that is going to be necessary for restaurants to continue to survive. In a sense, this butcher shop kind of saved us from this whole crisis."