Like many of the bloggers hired to promote Zaycon Fresh’s meat delivery service, Cassie Michael lost thousands of dollars when the company went under last summer.
The longtime Zaycon customer and mother of six said she couldn’t find an affordable substitute for the company’s products, so she started her own meat delivery service, the Savory Butcher, with former Zaycon employee Erle Adams.
Since its first delivery in August, the Savory Butcher’s email list has grown to 14,000 members and 7,000 people have purchased meat. Michael said it took far longer for her to build up thousands of subscribers on her blog, The Thrifty Couple, but after stepping into the gap Zaycon left in the fresh-meat industry, her company has been able to do it in less than a year.
“It tells me that we’re doing things right,” she said. “It tells me we are solving problems when people get this excited about raw meat.”
Michael said the Savory Butcher – which had its first delivery in her home state of Utah, a second in Idaho and third in Spokane earlier this month – was built through the work of dozens of parenting, fitness and thrift bloggers who lost about $300,000 altogether when Zaycon closed.
“We built Zaycon together, so they’re helping me build this together,” she said.
Under Zaycon’s business model, customers would order meat months in advance and customers would pick up their orders at a delivery event, usually in a business or church parking lot. Zaycon, founded in 2010, ceased operations last summer amid a lawsuit and internal turmoil.
Michael said her farm-to-truck enterprise has a business model similar to Zaycon’s, but with one key difference: Customers don’t have to put down hundreds of dollars for food they might not receive for months.
“Nobody liked that, even when Zaycon appeared to be stable and running strong,” she said. “People did because they wanted their meat, but they weren’t happy about it.”
Savory Butcher customers reserve their meat order four to five weeks before a delivery for $10, paying the full amount once the order is processed and on its way about a week before pickup.
Since Michael’s company carried over Zaycon’s hallmark delivery method, she said she wanted to bring on Zaycon founder Mike Conrad as the Savory Butcher’s CEO.
Conrad said Zaycon started when his and many other families were struggling financially during the Great Recession. He said selling meat directly from farms to families proved to be extremely successful in the Spokane area and the company soon expanded across the country. The expansion also required outside investors, which Conrad calls his biggest mistake.
Conrad was one of several company officials named in a lawsuit that he said was the nail in Zaycon’s coffin.
“The lawsuit is what ultimately killed it,” he said. “No investors want to put money in when you have a billionaire suing you.”
Before Zaycon closed its doors, former CEO Richard Braddock, who once led Priceline and other large corporations, sued the company, claiming fraud and conspiracy by Zaycon leadership in his firing. In a counterclaim, company officials denied the accusations and said Braddock had mismanaged the company.
Zaycon was officially dissolved in November, but several individual members were still named in Braddock’s lawsuit. One investor named in the suit, Frank Maresca, called it frivolous, pointing out that many of the early claims were dismissed.
Before the Savory Butcher made its first delivery, Michael created a Facebook community for bloggers and customers where she tested interest and discussed what people were looking for in a service. In that Facebook group, which has grown to more than 3,500 members, she tests ideas and gets feedback on her products and methods.
She said the group is a way to keep in touch with the company’s core customers, provide new options like organic, grass-fed meat and stay grounded in why Savory Butcher was founded – to provide a means for families to afford quality meat.
Michael said she’s been buying groceries out of the back of trucks in parking lots for about a decade. She said the lack of a warehouse or brick-and-mortar store keeps prices down and allows Savory Butcher to move fresh food quickly.
“What I always tell people, it’s weird, once you try it, you will completely get it,” she said. “The experience of going to a parking lot and getting your meat is very memorable, but then you’re hooked.”
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