By Pamela Jacobs
Have you ever had a really great burger—the kind that makes you dismiss all other burgers before it, and fear that every burger after it just won’t live up? The kind that makes you think “this is why I’m not a vegetarian”?
If you have, then chances are, the meat came from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors. You probably know the name; you’ve seen it on menus—restaurants proudly displaying it to show that they only use the highest quality beef—and if you’ve been to Citi Field for ball game and a filet mignon steak sandwich, or waited in line for a Shake Shack burger, you’re familiar with the company that is undoubtedly the city’s (and country’s) best meat supplier.
And you may have wondered who Pat LaFrieda—the man behind the meat—actually is. He’s been called “The Magician of Meat” and has been credited with reinventing the burger. He is actually a third-generation meat and burger “guru,” who has taken a business that began in New York City in 1915 and brought it well into the height of the 21st century, without losing an ounce of the original family-owned-and-operated passion.
The LaFrieda legacy began with Anthony, who moved to Brooklyn from Naples, Italy in 1909 and opened a butcher shop with his five sons—one of whom was Patrick (the first), named after the Irish holiday on which he was born. This first Patrick and his brother opened a meat supply shop in the Meatpacking District following a meat workers’ strike, and in 1964, Pat LaFrieda the second (now known as Pat Sr.), who had been working in the shop since he was 12, took over the business, after which it moved several times, before finding a 30-year home on Leroy Street—which would eventually be renamed Pat LaFrieda Lane.
Enter Pat LaFrieda the third, a.k.a. Pat Jr., the man we know today as “The Magician of Meats.” While he’d been working in the family business since the age of ten, unpacking boxes, helping with deliveries, and most definitely “not being treated like the boss’s son,” according to Pat Jr., his father, Pat Sr., “adamantly fought for [him] to not be in the business.” So he went on to graduate from college with a degree in finance and immediately got a job on Wall Street. But the business was in his blood.
He saw it stalling and stagnating, so with his finance background and unwavering commitment to making Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors once again the best in the business, Pat Jr. took over, re-envisioning the brand and its role in New York’s food scene. He invested half of the company’s profits back into the business and formed relationships with the top chefs in the city—including Mario Batali and Danny Meyer, creating a custom burger blend for Meyer’s Shake Shack and subsequently making the chain famous.
It’s these custom blends for which Pat and his meat empire are so coveted. It began when Chef Riad Nasr was opening Minetta Tavern, and after tasting Pat’s custom Black Label blend—a somewhat-secret blend that owes its perfection to 1/3 45-day dry-aged beef of the highest-possible quality—decided he wanted it exclusively for the restaurant. Minetta Tavern went on to be named the “best steakhouse in the city” by Frank Bruni, who called the Black Label Burger “a riveting experience.”
Today, Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors processes enough meat to serve over 300,000 people each day from a 36,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility. They have two dry-aging rooms housing 5,000-6,000 cuts of meat; they do over 100 special burger blends for restaurants; they process and deliver the absolute best beef, veal, lamb, poultry, pork, game, and burgers from the best farms in the country; and, on top of that, they run 24 hours a day.
Considering all this—and the fact that Pat Jr. is a hands-on, in-the-trenches owner—you’d think he’d be exhausted. And considering the fact that he’s received accolades from the industry’s most influential people and has been on The Today Show, ABC’s The Chew, The Rachael Ray Show, The Martha Stewart Show, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (to name a few), and his own reality show, Meat Men, on the Food Network, and that he has literally written the book on meat (MEAT: Everything You Need to Know), you’d think Pat might have a right to be a bit haughty.
But despite the overwhelming success and exposure—and the fact that his work day ends when many of us are about to wake up—Pat LaFrieda Jr. is just an unassuming, easygoing, extremely likeable man who makes time for everyone. He’s a giant in the industry without the slightest bit of ego, and when you spend any time at all with him, you just feel that his success is well deserved.
And let me tell you: When you bite into that Black Label Burger for the first time, you know that the rest of your burger-eating-life will simply never be the same.
Beyond the Burger
NY’s favorite meat man is on a roll. Here’s what’s new and coming soon:
International Culinary Center: On October 13, 15, and 20, the Best of Butchery with Pat LaFrieda event will bring three intense days of butchering and hands-on practice to culinary students and professionals. (internationalculinarycenter.com/courses/best-butchery-pat-lafrieda)
NYCWFF: As the main sponsor for the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash, Pat LaFrieda will supply all meat for the event, which takes place on Friday, October 16 at Pier 92 Rooftop. (nycwff.org/mcburgerpreview)
FoodyDirect Tailgate Pack: Foodie football fans who scoff at the idea of subpar burgers and dogs can purchase Pat LaFrieda’s Game Day Sausage & Sliders Tailgate Pack from FoodyDirect. (foodydirect.com/restaurants/pat-lafrieda-meats/dishes/pat-s-game-day-sausage-sliders-tailgate-pack)