Cut above: Local butcher keeps it in the family

Like a grownup Oliver Twist, Kirk Wright has peered through the glass at John's Quality Budget Meat shop and always felt hunger pangs.

"Look at the color of John's meat," the 53-year-old beamed, pointing to blood-red tri-tip. "At other stores, I've been scared to buy it. It's brown and it smells."

John Lynd, 66, has been selling meat from his South Merced shop to customers like Wright for 16 years. As a butcher for 50 years, he's seen the industry go from serving neighborhoods to becoming a piece of the global food economy.

Despite being influenced by a global market that forces him to change his prices nearly every week, Lynd tries to keep the hometown feel by knowing all his customers' names and favorite cuts -- the same service that has kept his family in the business for six generations. "Everyone's always a customer," he explained. "That's the way you look at it when you're in business."

At the turn of the 20th century, Lynd's great grandfather was carving carcasses with traveling Wild West variety shows to feed the performers and public.

The family settled in Merced, and Lynd grew up in Chowchilla, where he used to wake up at 3 a.m. with his father to get a supply of fresh fish for the family shop. Lynd sank his teeth in the work and began helping regularly when he was 16. "This is where I belong," Lynd said. "It's always been a good living."

His talent to turn a cow to a sirloin steak has taken him across the state. He's owned shops in San Luis Obispo and Lemoore and returned to Merced in 1990 after his mother became ill. That's when he learned that there was space to open a butcher shop inside Merced Food Center along Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Beneath the plate glass, he sells Mexican style chorizo for $2.69 a pound and ground beef for $1.39 a pound. But that could change in a few days.

Lynd said the prices can spike change on a weekly basis because of meat demands in Russia and China. Before, the stickers could last up to two years. The profit on a cut of meat stays the same, regardless of its price, but the number of total pieces sold plummets, he said.

In the back of Lynd's business, the racks to hang carcasses are still bolted to the ceiling, a reminder of how much the business has changed since the family migrated west.

Beginning in the 1970s, Lynd and virtually every other shop started to switch to boxed meat, which means it's delivered in large chunks and then cut smaller in the shop. This means the shop can offer lower prices because Lynd doesn't have to lose money on more expensive cuts that can be harder to sell.

Like any good butcher, Lynd has his own recommended cut -- John's Favorite Rib Eye Steak, which he has printed on the sticker to let his customers know his own taste.

For Lynd, this is a job to savor.

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at 209 385-2453 or