Aspen food shop Butcher’s Block plans block party Sunday
The Aspen Times
The Butcher’s Block on South Spring Street will host a block party from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday to thank the community and its customers for four decades of business.
The 40th anniversary party in front of the gourmet-food shop had been set for Saturday, but owner Jack Frey decided to move it back a day after seeing weather forecasts that called for more favorable conditions on Sunday, which also is Mother’s Day.
He’s planning to serve at least 1,000 pounds of burgers, hot dogs, steaks, veal and seafood as well as other special food items for the event — free to the public — and has city of Aspen approval to take over the section of Spring Street between Cooper and Durant avenues between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. for the occasion.
It won’t be the first time he’s held a block party at the combination meat-seafood market and delicatessen. He estimates that he put on a similar event for 20 of the market’s first 25 years. Frey, 72, opened the shop in 1973 with help from a Denver investor, Sumner Downing, since deceased, and was able to buy out Downing’s interest six years later.
Frey, also known around town as “Jack the Butcher,” told a story of extreme employee loyalty when reflecting on his many years in business. His two managers, Jim Strickbine and Alix Hoch, have been with him for 28 and 25 years, respectively. Another longtime employee, Mike Barrena, retired last year and moved to Arizona but will be around for the party Sunday.
“We take care of each other,” Frey said. “So many people ask me how long some of my employees have been here, and when I say somewhere from 20 to 40 years, they say ‘God, you must be a good guy.’ And we have others who have worked here from seven to 12 years, and that’s a real good thing.”
His workers have to be loyal, because they work in fairly tight quarters. When Frey first opened, the store was a mere 1,000 square feet. An expansion in 1990 added another 400 square feet. The height from floor to ceiling measures 6 feet, 11 inches, and some potential employees were too tall to take the job.
“We pay our employees probably a lot more than other places,” he said. “It’s a small space, but we’ve learned to live together like a family.”
Locals sometimes ask Frey why he doesn’t have a delivery service, given the quality of the sandwiches and other items in his deli. He has a simple answer: He doesn’t want to take away business from other food-service operations around the city.
“We are fortunate enough to make it with what we are doing,” he said.
“There’s at least five other sandwich shops around town. We don’t need to go out and compete with them and take money out of their pockets. It’s good for the customer that there are options.”
Hoch commented on what it’s like to work at the Butcher’s Block.
“There’s a little bit of drama, but there’s drama everywhere you work,” she said, laughing. “It’s a small operation in a small town, and that’s what I like about it — it’s not corporate.”
Strickbine said working at the Butcher’s Block is educational.
“No matter how long you’ve been doing it, if you have an open mind, there’s something you can learn every day,” he said.
Frey said the working relationships at his store aren’t always perfect, but he considers himself lucky to have had long-term managers and other employees willing to go the distance.
“When you work with people, especially in a small space like this, there are always going to be hiccups,” he said. “But this is like a family, and everybody’s willing to step up to the plate, no matter what is going on with their real families, and that makes it special.”
Tenants at the city’s oldest deed-restricted housing complex, Centennial Apartments, faced rent hikes as high as 30% in January that sent city, county, and APCHA officials into closed-door meetings with the relatively new landlord, Birge & Held.