When Shoreham native Justin DeMarco, 41, put the key in the door of his new butcher shop in Westhampton Beach for the first time, he was full of both uncertainty and disbelief.
These sorts of uneasy feelings should come naturally to anyone entering a new business venture, but it wasn’t necessarily the financial risk and the personal commitment that weighed on him, it was the fact that he didn’t really know how to be a butcher.
“I basically had no idea what I was doing except for handing meat over the counter,” he says, reflecting on his very first days as co-owner of what would eventually become Justin’s Chop Shop, a popular local destination for prime cuts and gourmet sandwiches with ambitious plans to expand its n 214 Mill Road store to a bigger location on 71 Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach in late December.
DeMarco did have some experience working in a butcher shop, but he was well aware that there was quite a bit more to it than what he had gleaned in his years behind the counter.
“Just because you can hammer some nails doesn’t mean you know how to build a house,” he says.
But knowledge of and experience in a given industry aren’t the only things that make a business successful. It also takes resilience, self-confidence, people skills, and general business acumen, all of which this neophyte butcher had in spades. Perhaps he was born with some of these gifts, but at least a few of them he earned the hard way.
The original blueprint for success that Justin had laid out for himself had exactly zero Hamptons-based butcher shops in it. Back in 2007, he was living in New York City and working as an intern providing research and analysis for a hedge fund. Finance was the world he dreamt of making a career in, and it seemed as if he was well on his way to realizing that dream, when the 2008 financial crisis hit.
“Predatory lending and the housing crisis took Wall Street and the world of finance to its knees, and the opportunities I was expecting to have weren’t there, so I decided to leave the city,” he recalls.
With his blueprints shredded and his compass spinning, DeMarco was forced to do some soul-searching. He would spend a few years back on Long Island trying to decide what he was going to do with the rest of his life, owning a bar briefly, which he eventually conceded wasn’t the most ideal business decision for someone his age.
“The bar business when you’re young is not always profitable,” he laughs, “but it was fun.”
No longer a business owner and still totally uncertain where his future was headed, Justin began to consider earning his master’s degree at the NYU Stern School of Business, but before he could make a commitment, circumstance stepped in.
“Long story short, I went back to the butcher shop that I worked at as a kid,” he says. “Not that I didn’t like [that job], it just wasn’t for me. I had different aspirations. But when I went back to that butcher shop, I saw the business model, and being in the business world I recognized that it was a very strong model. Everybody has to eat.”
Eventually, an opportunity arose for DeMarco’s boss to acquire a butcher shop in a little strip mall off the beaten path in Westhampton Beach. Seeing a shining opportunity to merge his current situation with his business background, DeMarco begged him for the opportunity to become a partner, eventually winning him over.
“After a few weeks of saying ‘give me a chance,’ he and I bought [the business],” he says.
Within two years, DeMarco and his brother-in-law had bought his partner out, and over the course of the years to follow the business grew into a go-to butcher shop that offers only the finest hand cut prime meats and some of the most sought after made-to-order chop meat in all of the Hamptons, not to mention a booming catering business that provides an array of gourmet foods for backyard parties and swanky galas alike. DeMarco and his culinary creations have even found their way onto the Dr. Oz show thanks to the success of Justin’s Chop Shop.
When they open their new location, DeMarco, his head chef Brian Szostak and their team of culinary experts will offer a bigger and better experience than the original location ever could. They plan on providing a high-end market experience in the vein of Citarella’s, with outdoor seating, private label beer and wine offerings, shopping, art expos, and much more.
Fittingly, the building where this new chapter of DeMarco’s unusual success story is set to take place was once a bank, an almost too on-the-nose metaphor for his journey from faltering in the world of finance to becoming an atypical butcher who built a brand new dream on the rubble of his former ones.