When customers enter through the front door of Southern Steer’s Bee Ridge storefront, they are most likely greeted by either Shay Black, managing partner, or his wife Krista, community outreach coordinator. Each of them stay involved in the daily operation of the shop for 40+ hours a week—cutting meats, ringing up customers and prepping the marinades that have helped keep their Sarasota location steady for over a year. They hope the personal touch of their customer service, along with their premium cuts of meat, help them carve a niche in the food retail market, dominated by one-stop chain supermarkets whose glitzy cold-cases of mystery meats and floor-to-ceiling aisles of processed foods have marginalized the specialty shops of a bygone era. 

Managing  partner Shay Black and community outreach manager Krista Black. Southern Steer Butcher. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

PHOTO BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

Southern Steer’s chicken is sourced from Mountaire Farms, a premier supplier of hormone-free, free-range poultry based out of North Carolina and in business since 1914, while the premium, grass-fed black angus beef comes from Creekstone Farms. When the meat arrives, it is stored in a walk-in refrigerator and never frozen, to “ensure that customers get only the freshest cuts of meat possible,” says Shay. In addition to a wide selection of steaks and chicken, Southern Steer offers burgers the size of garden stepping stones, ready-bake sides, proprietary sauces and jams, exotic meats like elk, bison, and rabbit, and sausages made completely in-house, including andouille and chorizo seasoned. They even offer ultra-premium Wagyu beef from Australia, a beautifully marbled variety ideal for customers in search of a steak so choice that it begs to be eaten while wearing a three-piece silk suit with a matching pocket square.

Southern Steer’s claim to fame, however, is the assortment of marinated steak tips and chicken. To achieve the otherworldly flavor, the Shays utilize a vacuum tumbler, a state-of-the-art machine that removes the oxygen and water from the meat and allows the marinade to penetrate deep into the fibers. After 45 minutes in the tumbler, the meat is infused with explosive flavor and tenderized so thoroughly a baby could gum it to shreds. Some stock flavors include sweet Asian chili, teriyaki, bulgogi, Cajun, kickin’ margarita, butter garlic and Jamaican jerk, though their most sought-after flavor is the Argentine marinade, comprised of salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, garlic, cilantro, lime and crushed red pepper. The marinade is featured on the Argentine chicken tacos recipe, occasionally offered hot-and-ready as a daily special and also a staple of the weekly meal prep classes. “I can sell 120 pounds of Argentine steak tips before I sell 40 pounds of anything else,” says Shay between flips of chicken thighs and steak tips on an electric grill inside the store. 

But, like small businesses from an idyllic past, Southern Steer’s bottom line is about more than just profits. “We want to bring a little bit of kindness back into the world,” says Krista, who sifts through letters and emails from folks in need. The Project 52 program selects a family or group in need on a weekly basis and provides crockpot-friendly meals to help see them through loss, trauma, or financial difficulty. When Hurricane Irma blew through town and took out power to their store and surrounding community, they fired up their commercial grill and offered free, hot meals to first responders, FPL workers, and passers-by hungry for a hot meal. More recently, inspired by 11 handwritten letters, they donated funds to youth participants in the animal sciences division of Florida 4-H, a statewide youth development program offered through University of Florida’s IFAS Extension that seeks to foster the next generation of farmers and livestock breeders. 

Managing  partner Shay Black and community outreach manager Krista Black. Southern Steer Butcher. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

PHOTO BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

Even though the Florida 4-H kids are learning to wrangle their four-legged friends, the Southern Steer vision runs as wide and free as a cow put out to pasture. On the surface, it’s a boutique food retail shop nestled in an ordinary strip mall, but on the inside is a community-conscious business hell-bent on filling area bellies with quality food, served with a smile. And in the same way that the marinades infuse deep into the fibers of the high-grade meats, so too will Southern Steer weave itself into the fabric of Sarasota for the foreseeable future. It’s a whole lot of ambition for a humble specialty shop, but it makes them a cut above rest.