Bye Bye, Belcampo. The High-End Meat Company Has Closed Its Doors
The closures may seem sudden but they come four months after a sustainability scandal that tarnished the company's reputation for humanely raising and slaughtering its animals — and charging premium prices for the meat.
The scandal started when former employee Evan Reiner posted an Instagram story alleging that Belcampo, which touted the sustainability of its farming and agriculture practices, had been deliberately mislabeling its meat products for more than a year. He alleged that Belcampo would buy corn-fed beef filets for $10 a pound, then repackage and sell them for a massive markup, $47.99 a pound. He claimed the company engaged in this sort of chicanery with several other meat products including rib racks and chickens.
Belcampo co-founder Anya Fernald, who co-founded the company with $50 million in financing from Todd Robinson and was the subject of a glowing 2014 New Yorker profile, responded with an Instagram video in which she called the footage in Reiner's videos "heartbreaking."
She went on to say:
"What happened in that shop doesn't touch our mail order or grocery products. Those are produced with third-party certifications and regulatory oversight that really protects every claim made on the packages and on the website."
Fernald also cited the various problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the pseudo-mea culpa, the company's reputation was tarnished and it likely never recovered. If those fancy Belcampo's steaks don't come from grass-fed cows that were humanely raised on a pastoral farm in Siskiyou County, why pay five times as much as you would for regular steaks from Ralph's?
At Belcampo's flagship Santa Monica shop, Eater LA reported that a sheet of white paper reading, "Closed for business. Sorry," was taped to the window on Monday. But on Tuesday, the notice wasn't there but the doors were locked, the refrigerated cases had no meat in them and the store was closed for business.
Belcampo also has a location at West Third St. in the Beverly Grove neighborhood and a stand in the Grand Central Market in downtown L.A.
Eater LA reports, "Sources close to the company say employees were told via text message that their jobs were terminated [Monday]."
Although Belcampo's website is still up, it has deleted all of its social media accounts and deactivated its OpenTable reservations in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Fernald's personal Instagram account no longer mentions Belcampo and simply lists her as "Entrepreneur & Cook."
CEO Gerry Embleton, who joined the company in August 2020 to help sort out its supply chain operations, issued a statement to Eater LA confirming the closure of Belcampo's retail business:
"While we are ending e-commerce, retail and restaurant operations, the company is exploring a range of options to provide consumers with non-branded products through new distribution channels. The company’s supply chain, farm and processing facility are both best in class and we hope that there are opportunities to collaborate with companies eager to provide consumers with meat products that meet those high standards."
Belcampo is hardly the first business in the food world to face questions about its claims of superlative sourcing.
In April, The New York Times ran an exposé on the Willows Inn, a Washington state restaurant made famous by chef Blaine Wetzel, who claimed that he sourced most of his ingredients on Lummi Island, where the restaurant was located, when he was, in fact, using mass-market ingredients from Costco and Sysco. In 2015, Mast Brothers' "bean to bar" chocolate was exposed as a sham. In 2016, the Tampa Bay Times' "Farm To Fable" series revealed that some farmers market vendors weren't selling the "local," "sustainable" "artisanal" and "non-GMO" produce they claimed to offer.