By Kim Ring
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Kate Stillman is managing her family’s farm, a butcher shop and meat processing facility and employing about a half dozen people — most of them women.
Hair tied in a messy ponytail topped with a ball cap that reads “Eat Local,” Kate Stillman is testing a new sausage recipe in the kitchen at Stillman Quality Meats in the west part of Hardwick, steps away from a verdant green pasture where belted Galloway cattle — some call them Oreo cows — are grazing.
Something smells very good as she slices green peppers from last year’s harvest at her parent’s New Braintree Farm and tosses them into the mix.
If this recipe gets the nod, the sausages might show up in the display case at The Butcher Shop she recently opened at 157 Harding St. in Worcester.
The 38-year-old admits she’s spent most of her life driving right past the Heart of the Commonwealth, never stopping there except to have her children at UMass Memorial Medical Center or to attend an event at the DCU Center.
She’s been making her way to farmers markets in Boston since she started selling cut flowers alongside her parents produce when she was just 9 years old.
Her father, Glenn Stillman, allowed her access to every aspect of running the family farm and she was in Boston selling at a very young age.
“He let me in the boardroom,” she said, adding learning responsibility and business sense as a young woman helped prepare her for the challenges of operating her own business today.
Fast forward to today — the days after college, first at Cornell and then at UMass — a husband, a baby, the farm in Hardwick, a divorce and second son, and she’s managing the farm, a butcher shop and meat processing facility and employing about a half dozen people — most of them women.
The new store in Worcester’s Canal District is her latest endeavor and one she’s hopeful will keep her closer to home. She said she’s been welcomed to the area and received plenty of honest information from Renee King, the owner of The Queen’s Cups, a thriving business not far from Stillman’s Quality Meats new location.
You raise and process pigs, cows and poultry on the farm. What’s it really like to be a farmer?
I mean, I went to college with money in my bank account (from selling flowers) which was nice. There is none now. That’s the thing about when you do farming for real. The joke says, ‘How do you make a million? You start with two.’ That’s the joke in farming.
How did the decision to have a retail store come about?
How I got to Worcester, and I’m honest about this, being in Boston seven days a week at the Boston Public Market was brutal on me. It’s not our business model. I didn’t know that at the time. It sort of seemed like a good fit for us to have a seven day a week outlet for our product. The problem is I couldn’t be there representing us and my business is me, it’s my two hands. That is the crux of why people support us. They could go anywhere and get meat to be honest with you, (but) people want the connection. That’s the whole point of supporting local … people come to us because they know I know exactly what they want and I’m going to sell them (what they want) … I’m going to deliver. … The final nail in the coffin came when one of my good customers said to me, ‘You don’t look good’ … She’s like, ‘You look awful.’ I said, ‘You know what, she’s right. I’m miserable.
What made you choose Worcester?
We started toying with the idea of opening up a retail butcher shop and you know, there’s the gift from Boston Public Market. I would’ve never been able to make the leap from a farmers market to a butcher shop. That was a good intermediate step. … We had the equipment and it was the next logical step. … I started to look at Leominster, that’s where my roots are. … But we struck out. I couldn’t find a place to open there that I thought was going to ultimately work and someone said, ‘Why don’t you go to Worcester?’ I looked up commercial real estate available. … I think I did it on a whim. … I made an appointment, we went and I parked at Birch Tree. … I was like, ‘What the hell is going on here? This is like Northampton and Amherst.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God in Worcester, what is this doing in Worcester?’ My landlord showed me a couple of places. All the pieces seemed to fit. The local community of business owners was fabulous.
Worcester is undergoing a renaissance and a new baseball stadium is being built close to your business, is that exciting for you as a newcomer and how will you be a part of that?
It’s wonderful. Not every day is off the charts insanely busy. There’s a lot of construction going on down there. … I am walking in without a customer base already there so it’s one customer at a time, building a base. … We had a huge Easter … we were slammed. Crazy busy. We’re looking forward to what’s happening there. With the construction it could be a tough couple of years but after that, we can’t wait to be a part of it.
How has having a retail space changed things for you?
It allows us to do a little bit more. We can sell some cheese. We can sell some charcuterie. We can do some catering. We can sell a freezer full of local ice cream and some products. I didn’t have that ability when we were at the public market. Now we can do all of that and it’s made a huge difference. I have to say our big thing is pot pies, an absurd amount of pot pies. … It’s nice to have a clean new retail space.
With all that you do as an entrepreneur, is mom your most important role?
Yes, definitely. My kids are most important. They help with the business a lot even though they’re only 10 and 5. I can already see my oldest is a manager, he likes to oversee things and the younger one is a hard worker, he’s in there unloading trucks and helping out. They’re great kids.