The night before Colorado Meat Company opened in a strip mall across the street from the Avon City Market, thieves (or was it gremlins loyal to a certain supermarket chain?) pilfered the compressor out back that pumped chilled air into the shop’s fully stocked walk-in refrigerator.
“It ended up being good luck,” says Chris Hudgens, Colorado Meat Company’s co-owner, a master butcher who says he did what any cleaver-wielding entrepreneur would do. “I started grilling meat out front and giving away samples.” At the end of the day, whatever grass-fed local beef, lamb, and pork remained in the idled meat locker was donated to the Bright Future Foundation and fed to the residents of Freedom Ranch Safe House, an emergency shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
Since (and probably partly because of) that challenging start, scores of foodies and farm-to-table aficionados have found their way to Colorado Meat Company. “I’ve gotten to know what they like,” Hudgens says as he stands with his wife, Brittany Pearson, behind a refrigerated glass case stocked with everything from links of linguiça to racks of Fred Flinstone–worthy beef ribs dry-aged for 14 days.
Hudgens and Pearson met in fall 2004, when Pearson was managing the Tommy Bowers ski shop in Vail Village and Hudgens was delivering packages for FedEx. Romance—local, then long distance—ensued, as Hudgens returned to his native Tennessee to mentor under a chef friend who had opened Porter Road Butcher, a ranch-to-table whole-animal butchery in Nashville. The business flourished and caught the attention of a regional culinary magazine that raved about Hudgens’s 40-pound batches of andouille, bratwurst, and kielbasa, anointing him Nashville’s “Sausage King.”
Returning to Avon with a crown and a business plan, Hudgens pooled resources with Pearson, took out a lease on a former bicycle shop next door to the Columbine Bakery, and began buying and butchering whole animals sourced from a ranch just up the highway in Meeker. Because he thereby cuts out the middleman, Hudgens says he can keep prices competitive with organic meat sold at grocers, which typically is frozen and shipped from farms across the continent, if not around the world. As he works his way through each animal, regulars have learned to plan meals accordingly; you may find tri tip in the case on Monday, osso buco on Tuesday, leg of lamb and pork shanks on Wednesday. “We sell what the animal gives us,” is how Hudgens puts it.
Even the bones (sold by the bucket for $10) do good work making broth at Nudoru Ramen Bar in West Vail or pleasing canine companions. Fresh sausages from beef merguez to bratwurst are stuffed daily, as are hot dogs: serious wieners made from ground short-rib meat, then smoked to a toothsome bite and juicy interior begging for a roll, some whole grain mustard, and a Belgian ale.
“Eventually, I want to make bologna, too,” Hudgens says. “When you make bologna from great ingredients, the taste is amazing.” He may not be Avon’s M-A-Y-E-R, but to local sausage lovers, Hudgens is still the king.