PALM HARBOR — The customers can't see it, but the business has a secret weapon: the vacuum tumbler.
The metal contraption shakes things up for the customers of Southern Steer Butcher, a new full-service meat market at 30214 U.S. 19 N.
"I don't know of many other businesses in Florida that have one,'' said Dave LaGree, who opened the business three weeks ago, along with Eric LaFleur, a childhood friend, and Greg Snyder, a former managing partner at the Bonefish Grill in Palm Harbor.
Customers can peruse a display case filled not only with handmade sausages and fresh seafood, but with filet mignon, sirloin and chicken breasts soaked in marinades with names like sweet Asian chili, cajun, garlic and cheese, and citrus chipotle.
The marinades — there are more than 50 to choose from — are mixed in the kitchen, then placed inside the vacuum tumbler along with the meat. The machine pulls out extra air, like a vacuum, allowing the marinades to penetrate into the center of the meat.
"Our claim to fame will be our marinades for sure,'' said LaGree, who said the idea for the new business came from a childhood memory.
While he was growing up in Londonderry, N. H., before any gathering his parents would head to the neighborhood butcher shop.
"The name of the shop was Mr. Steer's, and that's what we called the original owner. Mr. Steer was considered the godfather of meats,'' LaGree said. "His shop fed us for years and years and nothing compared to the marinated meats we'd buy there.''
As he got older, LaGree, a former teacher who also owns several Anytime Fitness franchises, would visit Mr. Steer's on his own.
"Actually, my buddies and I would buy the meat and eat the meat right when it was done, standing around the grill, not waiting for side dishes,'' he said.
Ever since he moved to Florida in 1996, LaGree has believed a business similar to Mr. Steer's would do well in the Sunshine State.
"With the year-round grilling in Florida, as opposed to harsh winters up north, I knew opening a place like Mr. Steer's would be a home run down here,'' he said.
And so, LaGree, along with Snyder and LaFleur, who continues to live in the northeast, opened the business at the Curlew Crossing Shopping Center.
Snyder, who holds a degree in business administration from the University of Florida, said he expects that "within a year the business will see a return on the original investment.'' The owners declined to say how much they invested.
One recent customer, Eric Schmitz of Dunedin, relayed a message to Snyder.
"I was talking to neighbors in Dunedin. There's about 12 guys looking for venison, and if you start selling it, I'll bring the whole neighborhood over,'' he said.
"Actually, I have an appointment to talk to a purveyor tonight, who promises he can get us anything, from pigeon's feet to alligator's nose,'' Snyder joked.
Joan Thomas of Palm Harbor is another new customer. "A neighbor gave me a cut from a sirloin steak over Memorial Day,'' she said. "It was marinated in some sort of garlicy sauce. It was so good. So, here we are.''
However, Thomas left before buying any meat last week. Instead, she decided to head over to Home Depot next door. She realized that before she bought any meat, she'd better buy a grill.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.