In 2010, caterers James Peisker and Chris Carter grew tired of their local grocery store’s frozen, low-quality meat selection. To fill the gap, the founding duo opened a brick-and-mortar butcher shop in Nashville to oversee the process from farm to shop, where they hand cut all their meat — the right way.
Porter Road quickly became a cult favorite in Nashville, so to keep up with demand, Peisker and Carter purchased a slaughterhouse and processing facility in Kentucky. Following the launch of their wholesale program, they ended up with a surplus of delicate cuts.
They decided to take Porter Road online.
“Chris and I have talked about this a while: How do we supply this quality meat to people who aren’t able to get it? [The] customers who don’t have Porter Road right down the street from their house,” says Peisker.
The team prides itself on being able to answer questions, provide guidance, and help their customers understand the quality of the meat they’re consuming along with its origin. They wanted to translate that same customer experience online. To do so, the team brought in Ryan McIntyre, General Manager of e-commerce, to lead the functionality of the new direct-to-consumer online brand.
“We wanted to make sure, with no way to personally interact with our customer, how do we make that website have that familiar feel?” says Peisker.
“We built a website that guides you just like we do at the shop, to suggest that if you like this ribeye, maybe you try this chuck eye,” says Peisker. “We also wanted to make sure that we had things that only small local butcher shops offer, which is what we have accomplished by doing those butcher cuts and off cuts, which have actually become our number one seller and the things we can’t keep up with at this point.”
After one year and a beta phase, PorterRoad’s online platform now offers poultry and 14-day dry aged meats from small farms in just a few clicks, delivered fresh — within two days — in biodegradable packaging. Instead of shipping frozen meat in styrofoam containers, the team invested in Green Cell Foam, a cornstarch-based insulation that is recyclable and water-soluble.
“That was a really important part: to make sure that the consumers were comfortable, not just with the packaging, but how we start at the farms, what we do within the facility — we have to tie it together. We couldn’t ruin it at the very end by putting it in styrofoam package,” says McIntyre.
McIntyre shares that he wanted the website to mirror the interaction with your local butcher including recommendations for big dinner parties, purchasable cooking gear (from cast iron pans to crock pots), and cooking tips. The UX/UI of the site helps the user find the exact right meat for their feast.
“By using intuitive filters for customers to get them to the right cut of meat, you put good quality product in front of somebody and you tell them the right way to prepare it,” says McIntyre. “That’s where this brand has an opportunity to become conversational because you are teaching lessons to the consumer and they take that away as a prideful moment.”
As part of the customer experience, the Porter Road team has prioritized building relationships with smaller farming operations to make sure the land and animals are taken care of and raised in the best way possible.
“What we’ve done over the years is develop these relationships with these small farmers and there has to be a lot of trust built in between us and them. In the 7 years that we’ve been in operation, we’ve never lied to our farmers, we’ve always stuck to our word and tried to help them grow as we continue to grow forward too,” says Peisker.
For the initial funding, the team connected with Ryan Darnell from Max Ventures to get introductions to venture capital investors.
“It was an unusual fundraise for us. We were very fortunate in having the connections through Max Ventures,” says Carter. “We would sit down and this was a very new concept to them. Not only were we a 7-year old profitable business, but we weren’t normally the people that they would invest in. They were investing in basically what was a small business turning into an e-commerce business in middle Tennessee, which was a very new concept to everybody.”
Carter and the team had to overcome the established idea of how the food system currently works — farmer, broker, feedlot, slaughterhouse, broker, and grocery store. Porter Road changes the model to go from farmer direct to consumer. They succeeded in connecting with investors and are currently raising their $3 million seed round.
After officially launching this month, Porter Road has its eyes set on going nationwide in the next year as they start to expand.
“This is a brand new thing that a lot of people don’t know about yet and that’s our goal,” says Peisker. “To get people to know about it, get people to try it, and fall in love with Porter Road.”