After sourcing scandal, Belcampo Meat Co. abruptly closes stores, restaurants

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June 14, 2014-- Belcampo Meat Co. plans to be stocked up for Fourth of July weekend barbecues.
Belcampo Meat Co., founded in 2013 and heralded for its sustainable farming practices, abruptly ceased retail and food-service operations on Monday. (Richard Derk / Los Angeles Times)

Just months after the turmoil spurred by a video that alleged intentional mislabeling of products at Belcampo Meat Co.— antithetical to the business’s direct-sourcing ethos and sustainability-driven marketing — it has ceased its retail and restaurant operations, effective Oct. 18.

The farm, butcher shop and regional restaurant chain faced backlash in late May when former Belcampo Santa Monica employee Evan Reiner posted a video to his Instagram alleging the company sold meat from other farms — and even other countries — but labeled and sold various cuts as its own product sourced from the company’s 30,000-acre farm in Gazelle, Calif.

At one point, Reiner holds up a beef tenderloin to the camera with “Cape Grim” packaging clearly visible, suggesting it was sold as Belcampo meat (Cape Grim is an Australian beef farm). Another example, in an Instagram story, included a photo on which he wrote that the meat was “bought for a little over $10 [per pound and] sold [by Belcampo] for $47.99 [per pound] as ‘organic.’”

“They are lying to your face,” Reiner wrote as text over one of his videos. The staff, he said, had been encouraged to hide the labels of other farms to suggest the meat was being sourced from Belcampo’s own farm. Reiner declined to comment for this story.

After the release of Reiner’s video, Belcampo conducted its own investigation and reported: "Overall, externally sourced meats which did not meet Belcampo quality standards represented 6% of the total value of all meats procured from the beginning of 2020 to the end of May 2021.

The company offered to issue refunds to customers who believed they might have been affected by the mislabeling. In June, Belcampo said it would hire a full-time compliance officer to conduct quality and purchasing audits. The company also said it would train employees on sourcing practices and source from beyond the company farm — and only from approved partner farms — only when Belcampo’s own farm could not meet supply demands.

Four months later, Belcampo ceased to operate as a retailer.

According to a statement from CEO Garry Embleton, Belcampo has terminated retail and service operations, though the farm and processing facility are still operational, and it will investigate "a range of options," including sales of product without the name “Belcampo” attached.

Until Monday, Belcampo operated three restaurants in the Los Angeles area — one in Santa Monica, one in West Hollywood and a counter within downtown's Grand Central Market, plus two in Northern California.

A representative of Grand Central Market confirmed that Belcampo closed its butcher counter and burger operation within the historic food hall on Monday. As reported by Eater, the Santa Monica restaurant and butcher shop’s window marked its closure with a handwritten sign that reads, “CLOSED FOR BUSINESS, SORRY,” in red crayon.

An email to co-founder (and former public face of the organization) Anya Fernald, was not answered. According to a Belcampo representative, Fernald has not been active in the company’s operations for months, although she does hold a board seat.

Over the summer Fernald was one of Belcampo’s most apologetic voices after Reiner’s back-room video went viral. She called the mislabeling of products in Santa Monica “heartbreaking,” though she did not explain how it happened, adding that it affected only retail operations and not the company’s mail-order sales.

That was echoed in a public statement issued in June by the company detailing the findings of its investigation and next steps. The mislabeling, the statement said, had occurred only in its butcher shops and restaurants, not in its e-commerce shop or its supply to grocery stores.

“During the unprecedented disruptions of the Covid-19 global pandemic, our business experienced rapid and significant operational changes,” the public response said. “Limitations on indoor dining, supply chain disruptions, a rapid increase in demand for take-out and delivery, and staff furloughs or layoffs particularly impacted our Restaurant and Butcher Shop locations.”

This week, Belcampo’s CEO said the company is now focused on “supporting our retail and e-commerce employees throughout the transition.” But representatives for Belcampo would not elaborate on or clarify anything about the company’s future endeavors or the level or variety of support being offered to employees, other than the fact that it is “appropriate support.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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