James Jackson Leach grew up playing in the back room of Longhorn Meat Market. His grandmother and uncles worked there; so did his parents, who also raise cattle in Bastrop.
His family has operated a butcher shop since the late 1800s.
So it is no surprise that Leach eventually decided to enter the local food scene himself, first with Italian sandwich shop Lucky’s Puccias and then with downtown Belgian beer bar Mort Subite.
However, despite this pedigree, Leach said he never expected to take over the family business.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
But having gained some business experience and armed with the knowledge that the previous owner—Leach’s first cousin, once removed—was ready to retire, he stepped in.
“I was excited that I could keep the family business alive, keep the name going,” Leach said. “The customers are really happy that it’s the same family because they see a lot of the neighborhood changing.”
Since becoming owner in February 2018, Leach has worked to balance the market’s history with its future.
Most of the shop’s business is selling meat wholesale to area restaurants, including Tamale House, East Side Pies, Mi Madre’s and The Soup Peddler.
While Longhorn cannot always compete with the prices of mass food distributors, it provides value elsewhere.
“Our value add is that we’re 10 times more fresh because we cut everything right before it gets delivered,” Leach said.
Where larger companies may require delivery minimums and advance orders, Longhorn can help when a local restaurant runs out of something during the dinner service.
“We have that Southern hospitality kind of meat business,” Leach said.
The market also offers a retail counter, which brings in a wide-ranging clientele, from what Leach calls the “Whole Foods people,” searching for local lamb and wagyu beef, to customers who have shopped there for decades.
“We have something for everyone,” Leach said.
While Leach generally celebrates the market’s old-school vibe, he is embracing modest changes.
There is a new website, a social media presence and a desire to provide health insurance and other benefits to his staff.
“I’m taking all these things off the windows,” he said, referring to the security bars.
Other changes hark back to the past.
“People try to be retro,” he said. “I just blow the dust off.”
A new mural on the back wall is based on a baseball cap Leach’s great-uncle used to wear, painted with a longhorn and the Texas flag.
It looks out onto the parking lot, which serves as the site for regular neighborhood barbecues, part of Leach’s plan to turn the market into a community hub.
“I’m going to honor what’s been here forever,” he said.