* Zach Dickson, owner of the Meat Dept., is a sporting man's butcher shop. Standings are listed, as well as "Athletes Who Can Eat Here for Free" and "Athletes Who are NOT Welcome" on a chalkboard behind the counter. Photos: Tom Linnemann Studios. .... 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
Alex Rodriguez is not welcome at the Meat Dept.
The same goes for the New York Yankees.
And the Boston Red Sox.
The court of public opinion, newspapers, TV and radio shape perception of athletes.
Barber shops on Saturday morns used to the same, like the counter at the local coffee shop.
Now, along comes the Meat Dept. a butcher shop on the Danforth, which has the pulse of the public, takes names and keeps them on record.
Part soup kitchen, part man cave and all sports, “righteous,” (so they say) decisions are made each and every day.
Athletes are rewarded/dishonored for their good deeds/crimes and he or she will stay there until an argument can be made to change the opinion of ownership or its employees
Store owner Zach Davidson used to work for Imperial Tobacco in cigarette sales.
“The better I did selling cartons of smokes, the worse I felt,” said Davidson. “Cooking became my outlet.”
* * *
There are three parts to the chalk board high above the meat counter:
_ Current standings of leagues in-season: baseball, plus the Miami Heat beating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7.
_ Athletes Who Can Eat Here for Free at the Meat Dept.
_ And Athletes Who are NOT Welcome at the Meat Dept.
That’s where Rodriguez, the Yankees and the Red Sox are on the board.
“I didn’t like A-Rod since he ran behind Howie Clark yelled at him and that pop up fell at the Rogers Centre years ago,” said butcher Jose Palma, below, a day-one employee, along with John Moor, Fay Cheung and Big Jim.
Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie is on the bad side of the board too “for yelling at the third base coach (Luis Rivera) and Adam Lind for not tagging up earlier in the season,” against Baltimore and Josh Johnson for his performance.
Davidson grew up in Windsor (had season’s tickets to Detroit Lions games so running back Barry Sanders’ name will never come down from the good side), attended York University and was living over a butcher shop at Yonge and Lawrence.
Tired of sales, one day he asked the butcher “how much cash I’d need to open my own place.”
The butcher asked what Dickson was doing that moment, for he was on his way to look at the 207 Danforth location with a realtor that day.
So, with a loan from his father Al, who lives in Collingwood, the place opened.
In coolers are double smoked wild boar bacon, rosemary balsamic, mango jerk, maple teriyaki-marinated meats, plus naked cuts of prime rib, steaks, sausages, lamb chops, boneless, skinless chicken breasts ... you name it.
Another cooler ages meat.
My pal Tom Linnemann, who moved here from Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes and one Patrick Reusse, targeted the store as a must-see on his usual neighbourhood walk.
When my son moved to Moncton, N.B. last Labour Day I sent out a tweet looking for an adopted son: someone who could change the clocks, fix the remote control for the TV, the printer and solve laptop problems. Linnemann, Reusse’s adopted nephew became my adopted son.
Since I have trouble finding anything north of the Gardiner Expressway, he took me into the busy shop Sunday afternoon.
* * *
Fans are passionate about the names they see on the board.
Sometimes when men are busy at the counter or in the back of the store an English football fan will sneak behind -- in a total breach of security -- and wipe out Maradona’s name.
The most polarizing name in sports in the butcher store?
Golfer Phil Mickelson.
“People are either 100% behind him -- he’s the best and others condemn us, they don’t like his smugness,” said Davidson, explaining there is zero middle ground.
Neighbourhood regulars -- not everyone mind you -- are handed at Cameron’s ale in a plastic cup, brewed in Oakville, while they wait.
The butcher shop doesn’t have a license to sell, but it can give it away and all staff will soon be Smart Serve certified.
The store even carries Diet Coke in glass bottles.
So, sports talk, beer, Diet Coke ... what more could a place have?
"Well, Jose used to take a month off ... we'd never see him because the World Cup was on," said Dickson. Now there is a TV hanging from the ceiling. During big events customers have to run an obstacle course around the viewing public to find an up-close look at the meat counter.
One of Davidson’s first customers the month after the store opened June 15, 2010 was a woman named Christa. The two now have a 13-month old named Harlow, who made her Rogers Centre debut May 28 when the Jays lost 7-6 to the Atlanta Braves on a Brian McCann homer in the 10th. Harlow went the distance.
Dickson’s sense of humour was on display from the first sign ever to go up in the window:
(Part time/After School)
Offering that crappy dishwasher gig that you get when your parents tell you to get a job. Ideally looking for that cocky rebel type kid with a bad attitude.
A youngster walked in and said “I’m your guy for the add.”
Dickson said “perfect, you start tomorrow.”
That was the interview process.
* * *
On the good side:
George Bell is up there. “How can you not like anyone who tells fans to kiss his purple butt?” asks Palma, who is from Ecuador. He used to sit in left field at Exhibition Stadium and tease Bell in Spanish.
Hall of Famers Robbie Alomar and Fergie Jenkins are there.
Cito Gaston, Roy Halladay. Tom Cheek, Joe Carter and Jackie Robinson too.
“I go all the time and yell at visiting players in Spanish,” said Palma. “Geddy Lee of Rush took me to a game once. Geddy scores the game and people kept bothering him for autographs, he’d sign and was falling behind, so I offered to sign for him.”
Skier Lindsey Vonn is there -- without Tiger Woods, who is on the other board.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is there, but has two stars beside his name, signifying “under review.”
“It has nothing to do with the Jays record, we put him up, someone sent him a picture of the board and he sent us a message, we spelled his name wrong,” said Davidson. “We’re not totally sure if the message was tongue in cheek. We don’t know his sense of humour, So, he’s under review.”
* * *
On the non-eat side are:
David Beckham (“his voice doesn’t match his body, he sounds like he’s full of helium when he talks,” said Dickson).
Also there amongst others are Ryan Braun, Reggie Jackson, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Chris Bosh, plus “dirty soccer and hoops players” and MLSE.
“One day a couple comes in, they’re look in the counter, see the board and the woman smiles,” said Dickson. “She nods at him and says to me ‘he works for MLSE.” I say ‘could you please tell him to wait outside.’ Out he went, I served the woman.”
Sounds like Seinfeld to you?
Both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
As is the NHL.
“We didn’t even put up the standings this year ... a 48-game schedule?” said Dickson. “All those rich people fighting. Imagine how many Christmases were ruined for people who worked at rinks, sold programs and were at the concession stands.”
The NHL will come off the bad side as soon when the puck drops on the 2013-14 season.
* * *
So, you mean anyone can come in, argue, win, get a name taken down and moved to the either side.
Yep, Dickson and Palma nod the way a gun fighter stares at some one through swirling dust at high noon.
Scanning the not welcome board, a name jumps out at me:
“What on earth is Don Cherry doing on the bad side?”
Dickson: “He once said that guys climbing over the boards onto the ice had the same bravery as guys storming the beaches of Normandy.”
I agreed that was wrong, but ...
“Who else is more Canadian than Cherry? He was in the top seven in that ‘The Greatest Canadian’ TV show. Who shows more respect for veterans Saturday nights than Cherry? Plus ... he’s from Kingston, the first capital of Canada.”
Up Palma hopped onto the counter -- despite protestations from a customer at the cash -- Cherry’s name came off the bad list.
But the good list was full.
“I’ll take down Nick Kypreos,” said Palma, as someone else protested near the cash, yet Palma’s rap erased Kyproes and in when Cherry.
Another CBC triumph over Sportsnet.