Gepperth’s Meat Market, a Lincoln Park mainstay since 1906, closed on Saturday, April 30. The venerable butcher was known for prime cuts of beef, chicken, and pork, plus a stellar selection of jerky.
Owner Vincent Colombet says they made a decision at the end of 2021 that it would take the next four months to reevaluate its business. It closed for the entirety of January as the owners contended with rising meat prices and staffing.
While grocery store businesses supposedly boomed during the early stages of the pandemic with the suspension of indoor dining at restaurants and stay-at-home orders, Gepperth’s struggled. Columbet says they were making only around $300 per day. Easter ham and lamb sales were also down by 40 percent versus years’ past.
“We couldn’t pay our mortgage, our suppliers, it was horrible,” Colombet says.
The Gepperth family ran the business from 1906 until 1981 when Otto Demke bought the business. The butcher was always near the corner of Armitage and Halsted, but moved a few doors down to the current location at 1964 N. Halsted Street in 1996. The butcher became well known among the well-to-do in Lincoln Park. Staff would often brag that Chicago Blackhawks players would often buy chops for their home grills. Demke sold the business to Colombet in 2020. Colombet is also known for Le Boulangerie, the bakery cafe with locations in Lincoln Square and Logan Square.
Colombet purchased Gepperth’s from the Demke family in 2020. He instituted a few changes to deal with the uptick of business with more people cooking at home. That spike didn’t last. Colombet says he feels Americans aren’t eating as much meat anymore, that lifestyles are changing.
The retail sector is also changing. While mail-order beef from places like Omaha Steaks have been around for decades, the Internet has linked the general public directly to suppliers who deliver beef to restaurants, places like Snake River Farms and Porter Road. There’s also the advent for stores like Wild Fork Foods, places that sell frozen beef at deep discounts. There’s also gimmicky meat subscriptions that lure customers with TV commercials. In Chicago, a newish company, Patronage Meats, texts customers when meats, mostly American wagyu, are available.
Even restaurants are getting into the fresh meat industry. Gibsons, one of the most successful restaurants in town, started selling chops in summer 2020. While Boeufhaus closed its dining room during the pandemic, the Ukrainian Village steakhouse continued to sell fresh beef, a natural extension of its tiny meat counter near its entrance. Barry Sorkin, the owner of Smoque BBQ, says they’ll start selling steaks sealed in sous vide bags in the fall when his new steakhouse, Smoque Steak, opens in Avondale.
Meanwhile, butchers and seafood stores are changing. Earlier this year, Dirk’s Fish, one of the city’s premier fish markets, expanded to add cafe seating for sushi and other prepared items. Butcher & Larder recently added sandwiches inside Local Foods near Bucktown and Lincoln Park. Paulina Meat Market also added a sandwich counter.
And that leaves hope for Gepperth’s. Colombet says they’re toying around with converting the space into a speakeasy-style steakhouse with limited seating. They’re also thinking about a more casual concept with burgers and hot dogs.
“We have the equipment and the building,” he says. “We’re looking for investors.”
The display cases are empty and the store’s neon sign is dimmed. Check back for updates on the future of Gepperth’s.