John Mullins | America’s Choice Gourmet
John Mullins, Owner, America’s Choice Gourmet:
“I love selling something that I care about myself, something that I love. Which is food. I’m a real steak lover.“
Pleasing a discerning crowd
I started off as a commercial business, working with restaurants, and recently I decided why not open our doors to everybody. That’s what we’ve done now: invited the general public to come in here. The Wilmington crowd is very educated about food. They know what they like.
This week is our seven year anniversary. We haven’t gone nationwide – we are an independent business, not a franchise, or a chain – but we do mail this side of the Mississippi. Right now we are focused on our local market. We promote locally, sending postcards and doing social media. We are a small business owner.
Wilmington foodies are a tough crowd to please, and I’m more than willing to take on the challenge. I say, “If you are picky, and you like this, then I know I’ve really got something good.”
It’s always prime time
I’m also picky. I love really good food. What a lot of people don’t realize is that when they go to the grocery store, they are getting meats that are only at the middle of the USDA grade chart. I do Grade 1, which is USDA prime beef, and all natural, so that it is not raised with hormones, steroids, or antibiotics, and it’s not pumped full of tenderizers or coloring. It’s not sprayed with ammonia to keep it the red color that people look for at the grocery store. Most people are used to eating only average food, and they don’t even realize that.
A lot of the restaurants that do the $10 steak specials, are buying meats at the middle of the chart, and they make it good because they have really good cooks. I give people the best, and they are like, “Wow, this is so great.” And it’s really just because they didn’t have any other options than the grocery store, which is selling select grade meats, and certainly not the option to buy the top grades, then you get used to thinking that is good.
We carry USDA choice and prime beef, chicken, and seafood. We have a big warehouse full of food. It doesn’t look like a grocery store here, we have a counter and we create a custom display to explain and sell our product. When people come in, I get out what they want and some suggestions, and they look at it all, and I explain what they would be buying. Typically with first time buyers – who usually come in interested in buying some steaks – I’ll give them the chicken and the pork and the seafood for free that initial visit just to get them to try everything that I have. For the first purchase, people are spending about $2 per serving here. I’ve found that after a customer has tried everything we have here, they are not going back to the grocery store to get their meats any more.
Food shopping a different way
People come in to buy here because the stuff I have is just so much better. Customers love us, and they keep coming back. Most people do tell us that they are on the way, so that they get one-on-one service, and we do meal planning and recipe coaching, because people buy here for the month, not just for a few days at a time. It’s a different way of shopping, but you get a premium product, and you save money. Everything here is full vacuum sealed, and comes with a one-year guarantee. Most people get everything eaten within a couple months, though.
I get my product from all over the United States. If I find a farmer over here who has better stuff, that’s were I source from. I’m always researching and sampling. It’s ever-evolving. If I find something better that’s where I go. I do try to source locally, but there is not a whole lot here that is right for me, and the best beef in the country comes from the Midwest. My co-packer for my steaks is in Chicago. I’m always buying from as many different places as a can. I package everything up, after maybe marinating it, or seasoning it. I find the source, I get the cattle, I get the loins, and I have it packaged and individually sealed. Nothing is in Styrofoam. It’s also all flash-frozen because it will be juicier and fresher than anything in the grocery store. The juices from the meat doesn’t soak into the pad under it. It’s not laying in a display case for a day. America’s Choice Gourmet steak isn’t even five minutes old before it is frozen.
Flash-frozen is not the kind of freezing that we would do in our home freezer with something from the grocery store. Your home freezer is fine for keeping the integrity of the meat; it’s the initial process of freezing that is critical.
Really, really great steak
We do so much more than stock shelves and lay the meat out in the case. This is not at all the grocery store experience. I really enjoy I love to cook. I like giving grilling and cooking advice, and sharing recipes and techniques. I’ve been a steak lover my whole life. I love a good t-bone steak. It’s my absolute favorite food, without a doubt. The product that I sell now is something that I’m proud of and my customers come back – that’s really important for me. I don’t want to sell food that people don’t love, and I don’t want to fail at taking care of my customers.
People rave about us. We’re really proud of that. That’s what it’s all about. Food is life. If you can make people happier about the thing that keeps them alive, then you are their hero. My best customers are my marketing. I call it steak-to-mouth-advertising. They share their experience with other people. If I give someone free food, I ask them to share a meal with their friends, because if someone eats the food we have here, they will become customers. People say “I buy my meat from John, he’s a local business owner here,” and that’s all I need. Some of my best customers send me so many customers that all we do now is exchange high-fives and steaks.
We also sell marinades, rubs, and seasonings. I stand by everything, because we are constantly tweaking and making it better. It’s been going really well here.
Find John Mullins America’s Choice Gourmet online and on Facebook