Seventeen years ago, Pat LaFrieda hung up his stockbroker's suit, put on an apron and became the fourth generation of his family to spend his nights in a freezer full of meat. Now, more than 500 of New York's top restaurants depend on the LaFrieda family for their meat, poultry and artisanal burgers. With the decision to create "Meat Men," a reality TV show about the business, the pressure to impress is higher than ever.
Your great-grandfather, the first Pat LaFrieda, founded the company in 1922. Did you always plan to work in the business?
Not really, no. I was a stockbroker on Wall Street, and I truly hated it. I went to my dad and said I'm considering working full-time at the company to grow it. You could tell he wasn't so happy about that. He said, "You're going to be rubbing pennies together!" At first I was getting up at 3 a.m. to prepare orders, then jumping in the van to make deliveries, then changing into a suit between lunch and dinner to solicit new clients.
Obviously, your dad has seen that it worked out. What is challenging about working with him?
Working in the family business is tough, and anyone who's had that experience would understand. My dad led the course for so many years, but we still have this tension between us about how to get something done. But the best part of my day is at 3:30 a.m. when he walks in that door -- I feel so much safer.
What's it like add the pressure of a reality TV show to the tight schedule?
We already work long days, and it's even tougher with a crew of sometimes 20 camera people following you. You're trying to get all your trucks out and restaurants supplied, but Big Brother is over your shoulder. One of the most gratifying things about this show is seeing my dad on TV. He's a guy who's always stood behind the scenes; it's our culture and the way we were brought up. My dad was always skeptical that people wouldn't care where the meat came from, and now that they do care it blows his mind.
Where does the meat come from?
We predominantly source our meat from Wichita, Kansas -- it's 100% Black Angus cattle. The harvesting facility was the only one built from the ground up by Temple Grandin [the animal rights activist] and that really comes out in the product.
What is your favorite meal?
My favorite type of meat is lamb, so I really like a boneless lamb loin with the belly of the lamb wrapped around the underside of the eye, rolled in a thick mustard and then rolled in breadcrumbs and roasted. That's my all-time favorite dish.
You work overnight in a 35-degree freezer, slicing and cutting. What's the most rewarding part of your job?
We're a small business, and I really like the fact that we have helped other small businesses flourish. My favorite restaurants are the small ones, where the chef/owner is still in the kitchen. Seeing the restaurants as busy as they are, even in this economy, and seeing their customers happy with the meals they eat --that's the most gratifying part of my job.