Word of mouth

Smollon isn't the only person out there selling locally raised meat, says Reitzig, president of the independent consumers' and farmers' association. Other vendors make a habit of knowing their local farmers, then sharing that knowledge with customers. Others still offer classes.

She knows of no one else in Maryland, though, who does all these things and more.

When it comes to blending old-style butchering with modern awareness of healthful eating, "Mike has the only one-stop shop," Reitzig says.

Not that it guarantees anything. Not everyone can afford the prices Smollon must ask. The owner say his business model allows little margin for error. He aims to use and sell 80 percent or more of every carcass, including parts you can't normally find at today's supermarkets: bones (for dogs and soup stock), kidneys (a few people love them), beef lips (a resilient bait for fishing) and more.

"You do this because you have a commitment to providing something valuable," he says. "I'll never become a millionaire in this line of work."

Since moving to Annapolis, Smollon has had little in the way of an advertising budget, but word of mouth has clearly spread. Holidays are big, of course, including banner weekends like the Fourth of July and Labor Day as well as the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

As Father's Day approaches, regular patrons are stopping by to pick up their custom orders and chat. Take Charles and Judith Beavers of Davidsonville, who visit around lunchtime one afternoon for their favorite fare: a sackful of prime beef patties, red and juicy and fresh from the grinder.

They're the kind of people who might just put My Butcher and More over the top. Charles, a retiree who calls himself frugal, lives off a government pension and Social Security checks.

To him, Smollon's meats are a bargain. "You've never had hamburgers like this," he says. "It's like having steak on a bun."

Lessons

Atkinson considers himself lucky to have taken Meat 401, one of the four classes regularly offered at My Butcher and More.

A longtime grilling specialist, he learned the proper way to sharpen a knife ("if you don't get it sharp, you tear the meat"), ground and cased sausage that passed Kisic's taste test ("he put it out for sale!") and left with an appetite for more.

"I was like a kid in a candy store, but with a kitchen knife," he says. "Mike has said he's going to bring in a beef carcass and teaching how to break it down. I'll make it to that" class.

Sound extreme? Atkinson, a broadcast engineer for Black Entertainment Television, doesn't care. The coworkers who used to rib him about working as a butcher on his days off have long since changed their tune.

He has taken to buying meats at Mike's shop, grilling them to order and bringing them to potluck suppers at work. "I'll just tell you they're not laughing anymore," he says.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com