Howard Ives Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Howard Ives who is the Meat Manager of La Bonne’s Market. He is going to talk about his first jobs at Bicron Electrics, La Bonne’s, some of the sports that he has played and the Appalachian Trail that he has hiked. Today’s date is Jan. 25, 2022. This is file #50, cycle 4.
JM:What is your name?
HI:April 28, 1974
JM:Where were you born?
JM:What high school did you attend?
HI:Housatonic Valley Regional
JM:I understand you played sports.
JM:What did you play?
HI:I did football, hockey, and track and field.
JM:Oh good. In football what positions did you play?
HI:I was a full back which is a running back, and a line- backer on defense.
HI:In hockey I was a defensive player.
JM:I am assuming ice hockey?
JM:and track & field?
HI:Track & field, I ran sprints which are 100 meter, 100 meter relay, I threw the javelin, I pole vaulted, I was almost like a utility track person. I was put wherever the coach really needed me, he would throw me in there.
JM:Did you break any records?
HI:I did not. 2.
JM:That’s alright. It is nice to have a utility player.
HI:My 4 x1 relay team, we were Berkshire league champs that year. That would have been 1993, my senior year.
JM:Job opportunities, please. Where did you work first?
HI:Freund’s Farm it was a nice first job.
JM:Is it a dairy farm?
HI:It is a dairy farm in East Canaan.
JM:You just did everything?
HI:Not everything, I fed calves, cleaned stalls, just chores depending, cleaned the milk parlor.
JM:Did they milk by hand or use machines?
HI:They had machines.
JM:You did the milk parlor too where you have to sterilize everything.
HI:I worked there for probably 3-4 years at a real young age. As I did get older and tall enough, I got to drive equipment; things like harrowing the fields, picking rocks in the fields with equipment like forklifts. It was fun. Very physical work
JM:Then you went to work at FINAST in Canaan.
HI: I worked there where the Stop & Shop is now.
JM:Was it in the same location as the Stop & shop?
HI:Same location but a different building. When I worked there, it was a smaller building but it has been since rebuilt. I worked in the meat department as a clean- up clerk, wrapper, that was pretty much it.
JM:How many years were you there?
HI: Maybe a year and one half.
JM:That is First National Stores?
JM:Then you went to work at Bicron.
HI:Then I worked at Bicron.3.
JM:That is electronics.
HI: It is an electronics factory. I worked on an assembly line.
JM:Do you know what you assembled?
HI:I do not. I couldn’t tell you. There were these tiny little parts with a lot of wires wrapped around. It was just that I did one part; someone else did another part as it came down the line. You wrapped a tap around it, an electrical cord type thing.
JM:Not intellectually stimulating
HI:I am sure it was. They had machines there which are fully computerized; you had to have an education and degrees to run those.
JM:It wasn’t your thing though was it?
HI:No I look at a job like that today which the way things have come; it is probably something a robot would do at that job today.
JM:How long did you work there?
HI:Not that long, it was when I was young. My early jobs worked around sports. When I had a job, it was in between sports so a lot of times it would change summer job, school vacations, part time.
JM:When did you come to La Bonne?
(The Village Improvement Society of Salisbury Inc. sold the property where LaBonne’s is now to the Market Place of Salisbury Inc. in 1974. La Bonne’s Market has a lease with the Market Place of Salisbury Inc. beginning in 1989. Ed.)
JM:And you are still there!
HI:I am still there.
JM:You worked your way up.
HI: Actually I just passed my anniversary. I would have been January 23rd, 1993. This past Sunday it would have been 29 years.
JM:It has changed. Anything you do, even school teaching changes over the years. How were you trained?
HI:In house by La Bonne’s butchers.
JM:Were you sent to different stores?4.
HI:I was. I was sent to one of our stores in Farmington, to work under the Meat Manager there. I was sent to Watertown from La Bonne’s to work under the meat manager of the meat department there.
JM:Did they all do the same thing or did they have a specialty?
HI:They each had their own specialty. The Farmington meat man was more of a high-end kind of what we do in the Salisbury store, where they do a lot of prepared stuff, higher grade cuts. It was very similar to we do it in Salisbury. Our Watertown store would be a lot different. It is a bigger store. It is more like a Stop & Shop kind of store. They had big side cases, lot of packaged meats. They all do. They do thinner cuts of meat. They have a different clientele: they have a huge Italian base down there. A lot of the customers say, “I want it cut thin, thin.” While up here everybody wants it cut thick. It is like night and day.
JM:The thing that interested me was that you went off to Iowa to a pig farm.
HI:Yes, I toured Diamond Ranch Pig Farms which are all co-op farms. They are small family farms in Des Moines, Iowa, actually just outside of Des Moines.
JM:And you also went to New Bedford, Mass. for seafood.
HI: Seafood, we did a trip to New Bedford to go to what they call Foley’s Fish School.
JM:You are the meat manager, but you also do seafood.
HI: It would be meat/seafood.
JM:I was interested in the fact that you were telling me that there are different grades of meat. How is meat graded?
HI:It is graded on the marblization which is going to be flavor and tenderness. So if you were starting at the lowest grade which would be probably the least expensive, you have a select grade which is very lean and very little marbling which is fat which is flavor and tenderness. Then it goes up from a select grade to choice grade. Then you start throwing in different breeds too. You are going to be grades and on different breeds too. You have certified Angus, You have just Angus, and you have Black Angus. The word Angus doesn’t really mean much, but it is a symbol or a higher standard. Then you have different grades too: select choice, prime and most recently American came out with what you call “Wagyu” which is kind of a spin-off of American Kobe beef which is your highest grade.
JM:When we talked before I said my mother used to get a cut of meat called an eye of the round. It is tenderloin, isn’t it?
HI:No, it has the look of tenderloin, round meat is lean. You have an eye of the round, bottom round, top round: they pretty much come from the same general area rear end of the animal like the hind quarters. Without having the picture in front of us, it is hard to describe. It is not tenderloin, but it resembles the look of one. It is not the same thing.
JM:OK, I always wondered about that. Thank you, you answered a question I have had for years.
Now as Meat/seafood Manager how many employees do you have?
HI:I have 7 at the moment.
JM:How do you allocate them by shift? How many shifts do you have in a work day?
HI:We have on most days three shifts. We have an early shift, which is 7 to 3:30. We have amid-day shift which is 10 to 6:30 and we have a closing shift which is 12 to 8:30.
JM:That’s a long day.
HI:All those shifts are right around holidays, but yes it is a long day.
JM:So do you have 2 people on a shift or…
HI:We try to have coverage for 2 people most of the day. At the very end of the day not too much business, usually there is somebody. So from 7 to 10 there are usually 2 people from 10 to almost 6:30 sometimes we have at least three, possibly four depending on what day of the week it is. That is our busy time. From 6:30 to 8:30 there is generally one. But once again there could be situational depending on what day of the week it is, if it is close to a holiday, if there is a storm the next day then it gets busier.
JM:It does make a difference with the day and the shift. Do you have any employees that have been there as long as you have been?
HI:Not as long, but I have somebody that has been with us 15 years, and I have one who has been there close to 10 years.
JM:Then they are a good company to work for then, if they have stayed that long.
JM:That makes a difference because if you have a lot of turn-over there are usually problems someplace.
HI:This is true.
JM:What is your goal as Meat Manager? You talked to me about your display cases which I thought was fascinating.
HI:My goal is my everyday goal is to have a beautiful looking meat case/ seafood case, trying to offer the freshest and highest quality product that I possibly can.
JM:You also said you wanted something for everybody’s budget as far as price is concerned?
HI:Well I also try to offer a large variety, not everyone is going to eat tenderloin every day. I can’t afford it. I have meats in my case that are extremely expensive. It is not a cut of meat that that you go, “Oh it is Monday I want steak tonight.” These are special occasion pieces birthdays, anniversaries that is what it is really designed for. I also want to have a sirloin steak or a London broil for a family that doesn’t make a lot of money. If they live in this town; if they don’t live in this town, I get a lot of people from Canaan. Canaan is not a wealthy town. I get people that come from Millerton, all over the place.
JM:They know the quality of the meat. They know the Bell & Evans chickens and I know of people who come from Falls Village that will go to La Bonne’s just for the chicken. You have created a go-to place for quality meats, quality seafood which is very unusual.
HI:We try very hard to have something for everyone.
JM:You also said that you are a “foodie”. What do you mean by that?
HI:A “foodie” is someone that has a passion for food. I enjoy cooking. I like entertaining. I spend a lot of time thinking about food=related things: how I can take an everyday recipe and maybe put a spin on it, a twist to make it my own, but just to improve it.
JM:I know that you really want your meat case and your seafood case to look “appetizing” because it is the eye that makes you want something. You can’t smell it because it is wrapped, but if it looks attractive and things are not in a jumble, they are sorted out and they are labeled up the wazoo so that you know what you are getting. If you don’t know what you are getting, you ask. If you don’t know how to cook something, you ask. Your men know how to do that.
HI: Yes, and if they don’t, they will ask. We live in a time when you can google almost anything. Even I will google something. There is more than just one way of doing something. There are so many different ways. A lot of time I will give somebody an idea, or a couple of different ideas and then I also love to throw out, “Feel free to google it.” You can take what I am saying and also something on the internet and you can make it even better, if you put a little thought into it.” Back to the presentation in my meat case, the bottom line is that I tell my people all the time that we are salesmen, we are meat salesmen. We don’t sell cars, we sell meat. We put a lot of work into trying to keep it looking nice. It looks nice almost all the time. You need to be on top of it all the time.
JM:It is like anything else: you have to know what you want and keep making sure that it is presentable that way you want it to be. Have you noticed any trends of meat or fish over the time? Are people eating less red meat or that sort of thing?
HI:No but it seems like it is January right now so this is a common trend e3very year. After the first of the year everybody starts they want to eat healthy. Every year you find this trend. Everybody is going on a diet or eating less red meat or they are more self-conscious of how much they are eating. They eat leaner red meat compared to a fattier one. The seafood business usually starts to go up a little bit because fish is a healthier version. We are always selling some kind of fish. Nothing against vegetables, but why would you ever want to stop eating meat?
JM:Oh I know, but now your comment about fish, fish is expensive especially in the wintertime isn’t it?
HI:Fish is always expensive. Good quality fish is always expensive.
JM:And of course we are so far inland.
HI:We are so far inland. There are two markets that people deal with one in Boston and one in New York. We are lucky enough by being between them. We do have that going for us, but we are also about 3 hours from both of them. We live far enough from the shore to where it takes 2 hours away from anybody dropping off fish every day. We get fish 6 days a week which is phenomenal.
JM:What do you like about your job?
JM:Good that is the best part.
HI:It can be.
JM:Yeah well, I have worked with the public: there can be off days for everybody. The thing that I like, and this is personal, I go in early so I know the two men that work for you. They are always pleasant, they are always helpful if I have a question or if I ask for ½ a pound and they are a little under or over, they ask is it ok? They are very honest and are wonderful as far as I am concerned. They are good salesmen of their product.
HI:I love to hear that.
JM:Well I think you should. I am going to switch gears now to winter sports. What do you do for winter sports?
HI:I snowboard, I grew up skiing and then I switched over to snowboarding about 25 years ago.
JM:Did you do downhill or cross country skiing?
JM:Did you ever use the ski jump?
HI:I have not.8.
JM:Good, that scares me. The reason I wanted to get into the winter sports is because of SWSA. You create something foodie, you create something special for SWSA during the annual ski jump competition.
HI:Probably 4 years ago we created the Salisbury Spicy Brat which is a bratwurst with just a little bit of spice to it which is unique to just Salisbury. I don’t think anybody else could make it, but it is pretty much a bit of bratwurst and a little bit of hot sausage combine together. When it is cold out, you kind of want a little heat. We make it once a year for the ski jumps.
JM:Will you be doing it this year?
HI:We will be. They just recently ordered 200 pounds of it.
JM:WOW! You started out with 2 -3 pounds?
HI:We started out with like 25 to 35 pounds in the first year. They sold out within hours the first time they put it6 on the menu.
JM:Doesn’t that please you?
HI:Yeah, it really does. It has grown to now 200 pounds which is really impressive.
JM:That is wonderful. You also hike don’t you? Tell me about the Appalachian Trail.
HI:Yeah I have a passion for hiking which pretty much started just taking my dog for a walk. We live here in Salisbury near the Appalachian Trail which starts in Georgia and ends in Maine. It goes right through our town. I can catch the Appalachian Trail from walking from my house. I can head south or I can head north. I can take a day out or a couple of hour. I can make a day out of it, several days or a week. Last year I did the whole Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail from Gaylordsville back here to Salisbury which is roughly 58 to 62 miles. This past year I did the whole Massachusetts section from the Vermont border all the way back home to Salisbury which is about roughly 150 miles. It took me 6 ½ days.
JM;Do you stop or do you bring your own food and camp?
HI:Both of those trips I have taken I have carried a full supply. If I were to go much longer than say 6 or 7 days, I would have to be resupplied which a lot of hikers do. They can go two ways: they can schedule stopping in small towns since you go through towns just like the town of Salisbury. When I did the Massachusetts section I went through the town of Dalton and you walk probably maybe 2 miles through the town of Dalton on sidewalks and then back into the woods. A lot of people will be supplied or they send care packages to themselves to pick up at the local post office. You do have to put a little bit of thought into it.
JM:Before we close is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t talked about?
HI:Just the fact that I have worked at La Bonne’s for going on 29 years now, how fortunate I am to see my customers grow up in front of me like families. It has been such a pleasure to see. On the other hand I sometimes lose people which can be sad. I really enjoy it. It is almost what helps me get up in the morning and go to work. I definitely have a passion for what I do.
HI:You are welcome.
As an addendum Howard wanted especially to mention how joyful it has been to work for 3 generations of the La Bonne family. They have been great to work for and he wanted people to understand that.