Owners James Smith, Donny Duncan and Mike Lacy love their work
By Diane Kortus Mathes
LUTZ — They have worked together for more than 20 years and call themselves brothers. The banter between the three men is relentless, but underneath the gentle rubs is an unspoken bond that has gotten them through personal despair and professional disasters.
Nothing has stopped these owners of John’s Butcher Shop in Lutz — James Smith, 55, Donny Duncan, 49, and Mike Lacy, 34. Not a fire that burned their building to the ground in 1996. Not the challenges of this recession that has broken many small businesses. Not the seven divorces these men share between them and helped each other through.
“We love what we do and we love each other,” said Duncan, the most gregarious of the trio. “Customers come here for the personal service, and we’re as personal as it gets.”
In addition to service so personal that the owners greet 90 percent of customers by name, John’s Butcher Shop is known for its top-rated USDA meats that are of better quality and priced 10 percent less than meats in supermarkets, said James Smith, whose father, John Smith, started the company in 1973 in a strip center at Bearss and Florida avenues.
Duncan was the first of the three to start work at the shop. He was hired by John Smith in 1973 when he was just 13 and a student at Buchanan Middle School. That was 36 years ago, and Duncan can still be caught singing behind the counter at a job he obviously loves.
Joining Duncan and “Dad,” as Smith fondly called his boss, was Smith’s real son, James, who began working at the shop in 1976 after four years in the Army.
Lacy, the third partner came along in 1990 when he was 15 and learned the butcher trade from the Smiths and Duncan. He became John Smith’s third “son” and “brother” to James and Donny.
Not long after it opened, John’s Butcher Shop moved to Chapman Road and Florida Avenue in Lutz, where it remained until 1996 when an electrical fire burned the building to the ground in less than 10 minutes.
They started over again four months later, this time 10 miles north at Land O’ Lakes Boulevard and Hale Road. It was here that John retired and his three boys, Donny, James and Mike, became co-owners.
John’s Butcher Shop’s last move was two years ago when it came back to Lutz, relocating to a building owned by Lacy next to Carolyn Meeker Dogpark, just off Lutz Lake Fern Road and US 41.
To work at the same business their entire adult lives has brought continuity to John’s Butcher Shop. The men know their customers much like a bartender, but instead of knowing a customer’s preferred drink, they know his or her preferred cut of meat.
“They walk in the door and we know what they want,” said Lacy. “We’ve watched our customers kids grow up, and now these kids are our customers ordering the same things their parents did.”
Each owner loves the art of butchery and each has a specialty. Lacy is proud of his turducken — partially de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed with a small de-boned chicken. Duncan makes a beautiful crown roast ordered for the most special occasions. And Smith makes homemade sausages — brats, smoked and Italian — and uses no fillers or preservatives found in commercial brands.
About 60 percent of the meat they sell is beef, mostly steaks. Ribs make up another 20 percent and boneless and skinless chicken breasts the remaining 20 percent. Much more chicken is sold today because customers are more health conscious than ever before.
“That is also why so many people shop at a butcher shop, because they want meat that has no hormones, preservatives or steroids,” said Smith. The shop is also one of few in the area that butcher game.
An owner at John’s Butcher Shop always greets customers, since Duncan, Smith and Lacy are the shop’s only employees. And almost always the three “brothers” are there waiting to help three generations of families from Lutz and Land O’ Lakes with meat they never tire of preparing for their customers.
If You Go
What: John’s Butcher Shop
Where: 102 First Ave., Lutz
More information: (813) 909-9746