Robert Buchberger: Master Butcher 2.0
Master butcher Robert Buchberger is among the innovative movers and shakers of his field. He feels most comfortable between cryptocurrency and Wagyu cattle. And in the Styrian town of Pöllau—this is where the visionary is from. His creed: Handwork is the basis for a good piece of steak.
“Soon you will be able to pay for your steak in cryptocurrency here.” Robert Buchberger gives a laugh and then adds: “How cool is that?” He is a master butcher and manager of the family business in Pöllau. In 1946, his grandfather started the butchery here in Styria, and they still do the slaughtering themselves.
“I am actually working on our own currency for our businesses right now. And there’s already an app.” In the app, one can find not only the opening times and addresses but also recipes and all sorts of information about the Buchberger butchery. “You have to stay resourceful if you want to win over customers.”
Robert adjusts his suspenders and scrolls through the app: “As an entrepreneur, you need to branch out. That’s why we have an online shop for meat, but also spices and a bit of other merchandise.”
Merchandise for a butchery? “Of course! Barbecue aprons, jute bags, and caps.” One of them sits backwards on his head. The jute bag reads: The end of the pig is the beginning of the sausage. Meat philosophy à la Buchberger.
Something for every taste
Another pillar of the business is vegetarian and vegan dishes in jars that can be found in the cooler of every branch store: “I tried to make a meat loaf out of flaxseed for my food truck. That was a bust. So we stopped working on meat substitutes and instead expanded our selection of meatless foods in a jar. We have a lot of customers who take some of the homemade veggie bolognese sauce with them for their vegetarian daughters.”
In 1996, Buchberger started training as a butcher in the family business. That same year, the first computer was purchased for the bookkeeping. Because his parents were not tech savvy, Buchberger junior took over some of the work in the office and in the production area. At the time there were few butcheries where he could learn as much as he could from his father and grandfather, because here at the farm, the old handcraft of butchery has always been celebrated.
Sometimes he muses that he missed out on the chance to work abroad as a young man. In America or Belgium, where there are pioneers who renounced factory farming and mass consumption.
Just like these pioneers, Buchberger junior still relies on old techniques such as hot processing: with this technique, the meat is processed immediately after the slaughter, while it is still warm. “Large businesses that buy meat from other suppliers can no longer offer this.”
“A good butcher loves animals,” says Robert Buchberger. “It has to do with respect. Respect for the animal, for nature, for the farmer, for the meat.” The 41-year-old reinforces his words with a nod of his head. Even as a child, he knew he would one day take over his grandfather’s business.
Back then, he never would have thought he would need a second mobile phone to have a little peace and quiet from the business. “I have to learn to say no,” says Buchberger seriously.
“At the beginning, of course, you can’t do that if you want to get anywhere. And it is also fun, of course, being part of the action everywhere, working the grill, drinking wine with people, launching projects together. But now with the kids, it is increasingly important for me to spend more time with my family.”
The kid wants to become a butcher
Particularly with a family business, the separation between work and leisure time is difficult. New ideas are constantly rattling around in Buchberger’s head. But certain things have become second nature to the young butcher to the point that he scarcely thinks about his family’s special approach to animals.
“My grandfather and my father taught me to take good care of the animals—we slaughter with great care. Mondays between 8 a.m. and noon is when we do the slaughtering. We pet the animals to the very end.”
This scarcely hardly exists any longer. Many butchers buy animals already slaughtered. “Even today, my father takes the time to visit the farmers and their animals before the purchase.”
How can one know even as a child that this profession is the right one? “Sure, I also had friends at school who were vegetarians. But I can’t change anything as a vegetarian. As a butcher, I can decide what animals we buy from which farmers and thus influence the welfare of the animals.”
Do good and talk about it
While many butcheries in the region and also in the country are closing their doors, Buchberger has opened a total of eight branch locations since taking over the business in 2002. “It was ten, but that was simply too much. That was six or seven years ago. My kids were also still young back then. And with every opening, the other shops suffer,” says Robert Buchberger.
Even when Buchberger was young, his father took him along to important business meetings. It was clear to him that he wanted to expand the business. It gave him confidence even at that time that they gave the highest priority to quality and the relationship to farmer.
Today, he also maintains close friendships and business relationships with restaurant owners and chefs. Among them are also a few celebrities from cooking shows on German and Austrian TV, like Tim Mälzer. “If you share the same passion, it doesn’t matter how famous someone is,” says Buchberger, putting his “fame” in perspective.
These contacts give Buchberger more opportunities to sell his meat. With his passion, he positions himself between farmers and meat-lovers. In this way, he also succeeds in convincing farmers to concentrate more on unusual breeds like Wagyu cows and mangalica pigs.
“It has to become cool again for them to have a smaller farm, because large businesses more quickly lose sight of innovation and the love for their animals.”
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