This story is part of a collaborative series from the Institute for Nonprofit News, Planet Detroit and four other news partners, examining climate resilience across the Great Lakes. This reporting was made possible with support from the Joyce Foundation.
Marrow, the West Village hybrid restaurant and butcher shop with an eye for using every part of a pig — has big plans on the horizon.
The team behind the critically-lauded dining destination is transforming the former Capital Poultry building at 2442 Riopelle in Eastern Market into Marrow Detroit Provisions. The site will house a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved meat processing facility, retail butcher shop, and restaurant — complete with a rooftop bar.
With plans to open in 2023, Marrow founder Ping Ho hopes the facility will enable the company to scale its approach to whole animal butchery. The team also wants to provide transparency to customers. “We want to invite people to peek in and look at our facility,” said Ho.
Since Marrow opened its doors in 2018, its guiding principle has been the practice of whole-animal butchery. Marrow’s butchers are constantly searching for new purposes for every part of the animals that come through the door.
That has meant turning off-cuts into ground beef and sausages to sell to Detroiters who want sustainable ingredients for their home kitchens. It’s also meant dehydrated pigs’ tails and ears finding another life as dog treats. In the Marrow dining room, helmed by chef Sarah Welch, it’s meant featuring the roasted bone marrow of animals from Zeeland’s Moraine Park Farms.
The pros of the practice are plentiful. Ho believes this approach can inspire a more thoughtful and ethical meat eater – crucial to a world where global meat demand causes environmental harm.
“We rely on these natural resources to continue producing food, yet, what we choose to eat, and what we choose to manufacture could have a negative impact on the environment if we’re not careful,” said Ho.
To reduce its environmental impact, Marrow also works within a shortened supply chain model —partnering with local farmers — so the team can trace not just where the livestock was raised but to keep tabs on the welfare of the animals when they were alive.
The aim is to change the meat status quo – where a raw chicken or beef package from a chain grocery store is likely a product of an industrialized food production cycle that leaves a trail of heavy carbon footprints.
Although researchers note fruits and vegetables are the most commonly wasted foods, they emphasize that feeding and housing animals has an adverse environmental impact. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, raising livestock alone represents about 15% of all “anthropogenic,” or human-caused, greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Resources like energy and water are used to transport animal products that don’t get eaten and go into the trash. And as the country’s meat production increases, those loss rates are likely getting worse, Vox reports.
“I’m looking at how, as we grow and scale, to participate in overall value creation and be consistently aware of our impact on the environment,” said Ho. “I think there’s a better way to eat meat…a better meat industry that we can absolutely be advocates for.”
The forthcoming facility is fully committed to using all parts of the animal. As Marrow scales up the bacon business, Ho said they’ll need to work with a producer who can meet their sourcing standards and supply sufficient meat. The team will also look for other ways to use the trim for other products, like sausages.
“Even if we are purchasing animals that are broken down before they get to us, we are still working directly with the farms,” said Ho. Marrow has been working with a handful of Michigan farms for years. “And these farmers are still selling, essentially rearing these animals [and] are well taken care of.”
A few challenges loom. Ho sees a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in costs and construction because of inflation, so the team is navigating how to complete the project within a budget.
Once the facility is up and running, margins will be slim.
“One of our challenges would be how to get to a point of scale and efficiency, such that we retain enough margin that we can operate successfully and have longevity,” Ho said.
Beyond the financial obstacles, Ho is adamant about redefining the future of the meat business. The decision to build in the largest historic public market in the country where meat vendors abound was intentional.
Ho said the company’s new venture aims to cement its own legacy through disruption. Traditionalists, take note.
“It’s an old business dominated by a lot of old practitioners,” Ho said. “So we want to blow up things. We want to show you how the sausage is made.”