Shelby Jordan may be on the forefront of Dawson City's food scene, but she's also looking backwards in time, to a sustainable, locally-sourced business model akin to the days when you’d know the local butcher in your town and not just the refrigerator case at the supermarket.
“I think there is simply more of an interest to go back to the older style of get-to-know your butcher, that sort of relationship,” she says.
What started three years ago as a small charcuterie case in the corner of her shop has now expanded to Bonton & Company, a storefront and restaurant inside the former Alchemy Cafe in downtown Dawson.
“It’s a hybrid situation,” says Jordan. “Daytime retail store and café, and then nighttime restaurant.”
Jordan is the only butcher in the territory making traditionally dried meats, such as cured salamis and sausages, with locally-raised pork and beef from Yukon farmers. Well, as local as she can get in the territory.
“I source my meat from here in Dawson, if I can, but that requires inspected meat, and being where we are located, we only get a meat inspector up here once a year. So it’s a bit of a challenge. Otherwise, I source from Whitehorse, which I still consider Yukon-local, even if it’s 600 kilometres away.”
The process is time-consuming and, by its nature, small-batch. One prosciutto in her shop has been aging for two years. Still, the results are worth the wait.
“There’s something satisfying about waiting a really long time, like eight months, and cutting into something to see if it worked.”
After a career change that saw her trading an office job for an apron, Jordan studied butchery for a year and even travelled to Italy to learn traditional salami making. But what pushed her to launch her own business was frustration. “I grew frustrated with not being able to access local meat here in this remote part of the Yukon,” she says. “So when I came back, I literally built a workshop on my property and then started working out of there.”
Right now, Jordan deals mainly in farmed pork and beef. She’s not able to market wild caught game for legal reasons. As the inspected meat industry grows in the Yukon, she’s hopeful she’ll be able to expand her meaty menagerie.
She has included some Yukon-specific tastes in her creations in the past, though, using berries from a local farm, spruce tips and juniper when she can get them.
There are plenty of tourists and locals who love her cured products, but she also has a solid group of regulars who turn to Jordan for processing. “They might buy a side of pork or something from a farm and I’ll process that for them and make bacon and ham and all that,” she says. “I order in full carcasses, I process that however I see fit, and everything, absolutely everything, gets used. Whatever little waste that there is, that’s natural when it comes to processing, is donated to the local dog mushers.”
The difference is right there in the product’s taste. “The taste, the appearance, the way that it feels, you can absolutely tell,” she says. “I’ve always maintained the mantra that we should be eating less, but better meat.”
Bonton & Company is offering a pick-up cafe of prepared meats and charcuterie this summer while the Yukon slowly reopens. Eventually, it will include a sit-down space for diners, specializing in shared plates. “Once we get through this COVID situation, of course,” says Jordan.