Trey Nichols ’03 remembers the day he fully committed to vegetarianism. He drove past a chicken truck in Chesterfield County and was appalled at the conditions the birds were living in.
I started thinking about what was going into my body,” he said. “As I learned more about factory farming, I came to realize that I couldn’t eat food like that anymore, and it was too hard to find meat that didn’t come from that source.” Now Nichols—no longer a vegetarian— and his partner, James Holtslag ’04, are making it possible for more people in San Diego to find meat that’s been raised humanely and sustainably.
Nichols and Holtslag opened The Heart & Trotter, a whole-animal butcher shop in San Diego, in 2015 after moving there soon after they graduated from Longwood. They sell only hormone- and antibiotic-free, pastured meat and make their own charcuterie without preservatives. In addition to being a butcher shop, The Heart & Trotter serves prepared foods with a menu that includes a variety of burgers and sandwiches made from their 100 percent grass-fed beef, house-made sausages and other meats.
The Heart & Trotter was named the best butcher shop in San Diego in 2015 and 2016 in a poll of San Diego CityBeat readers. In a review posted on Yelp, one customer described the sandwiches as “amazing” and the meats as out of this world.”
The praise is no doubt a result of the considerable homework and soul searching Nichols and Holtslag did before opening for business. “Soon after we recognized the opportunity and started planning for the shop in 2013, I apprenticed at a butcher shop in Los Angeles,” said Holtslag. “I got a deep education in how a shop like this can be successful— it’s all about having a passion for good food and an eagerness to share that passion with your customers.”
They also sought out local farmers who share their values about raising livestock, finding a mentor in Dey Dey, who follows the principles of Joel Salatin, a Virginian and one of the most vocal proponents of holistic livestock management and chemical-free agriculture. Dey “inspired us to work in support of our passion,” said Nichols. “We took that to heart when we started The Heart & Trotter.”
The Heart & Trotter is aptly named for a whole-animal butcher shop—one of the few in the United States. One of the challenges the business faces is educating its customers on unfamiliar cuts of meat.
“We are always talking to customers about different ways to prepare the meat we sell,” said Nichols. “One of the common misperceptions about butcher shops like ours is that everything we sell is more expensive, but there are actually a lot of cuts that are less expensive than meat at the grocery store—they are just unfamiliar. So we talk a lot about how to prepare things, and then the taste, quality and great customer service keeps them coming back.”
For the two friends, it all adds up to food they are willing to eat themselves—and serving that to others.
“For us to feel good about putting food on your plate, it needs to be respected from farmer to butcher to customer,” said Nichols. “There’s a movement across the country of people waking up—the environmental impact and inhumane treatment of animals has gotten to such a point that consumers everywhere are starting to ask questions about the food they put in their bodies.”