Jason Nauert is technically a native of Illinois, though the nascent restaurateur grew up in Woodland Park after moving to Colorado with his family when he was 3 years old.
“My family, we were like frontiers people,” he said. “I moved out here with my grandma, my grandpa, my cousins, uncles and aunts. I think there were 10 or 12 of us who moved at the same time and lived in the same house for four or five years. Then everyone went their own way and we stayed in Woodland Park, where I lived from preschool through high school.”
Following graduation, Nauert took some time to travel and held a variety of jobs, including working for the Teller County Sheriff’s Office and in landscaping, before discovering both his talent and passion for food.
Today he’s known globally for his butchering skills, and the local is getting into the restaurant business for the first time as co-owner of Beast and Brews, a taphouse, butcher shop and casual dining establishment expected to open early next year at Spectrum Loop and Voyager Parkway on the city’s Northside. Nauert spoke to the Business Journal this week about building the local food scene and supporting veterans and active duty military in the process.
Did you have a plan when you graduated from high school?
Not really. I was kind of a traveler and did construction for a while. I transitioned into law enforcement … and worked at the [Teller County jail] for the sheriff’s office. Then I went to Kosovo as a contractor guarding bases. I ended up breaking my heel … and I came home and didn’t know what I was going to do. I started reapplying for sheriffs’ departments. That was when everyone was going on hiring freezes — recession time.
What did you do?
I ran into an old friend whose boyfriend worked in landscaping. I thought that was kind of construction-related. … I did landscaping for almost 10 years.
Toward the tail end I had clients … who were [a retired military couple]. One day I happened to run into [the husband] and he had a bow. I’ve been hunting my whole life, so we started talking. The next thing I know I’m taking him out, teaching him how to turkey and deer hunt, which turned into, ‘Do you know how to butcher these animals and cook them?’ I’ve been butchering animals my whole life. That turned into, ‘Come over for dinner.’ … That turned into, ‘Jason, are you going to do landscaping for the rest of your life?’
I’m like, ‘My body hurts. I need to figure something out.’
That led me to look at culinary schools. But that was $50,000 while my wife is already spending $50,000 on college. That wasn’t an option.
I came across [the culinary school] Cook Street [in Denver], which [ran] the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat. It’s a one-off course in butchering. … I took that course in 2012 and from Day 1 thought it was the best thing in the world. At 39 years old I figured out what I want to do for the rest of my life.
I was good at it. The instructor was like, ‘Dude, where did you learn how to butcher?’
I’m self-taught. I’ve been butchering wild game, from squirrels to elk.
So I latched on to him. He had a big name in Denver. I started doing different events with him and he introduced me to other chefs and the next thing I know, these guys are asking me to come in and teach their guys how to butcher.
That’s how it all started?
It kind of snowballed from there. Around 2014, Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat wasn’t viable. I was asked if I wanted to take it over, so I purchased it. That was about the same time the Army got a hold of me to put together a field butcher program for them so their Special Forces can eat healthier.
So, all of sudden, I went from this guy taking a butcher course to owning an established company to where I am today, which is one of the most well-known butchers in the country.
And now you’re opening your first restaurant?
Yep. I work with [Colorado Parks & Wildlife] on what they call a Rookie Sportsman Program. It’s for people who’ve never hunted, camped, fished — and they want to learn these new skills. I teach them how to field dress, butcher and cook all their meat. … One day one of the wildlife officers introduced me to my current partner, Tim Peterson. The two of us are opening Beast and Brews.
Tim said I could hunt on his 140 acres. He and I developed a relationship. One day, out of the blue, we were hunting and Tim said, ‘I heard you’re interested in doing a butcher shop and restaurant.’ … I told him my vision and he said he wanted to do something like that. After a couple months he came back. He’s from El Segundo, [Calif.] and said there’s a place there called Brewport Tap House — they have these self-serve taps of beer on the wall. It sounded genius but I’d never heard of it.
He said, ‘I tell you what, let’s build this. I’ll deal with the taps and all that.’ He’s been a contractor for 30 years. He said, ‘I’ll deal with the construction and you deal with the butcher shop and food and we’ll be partners.’
A few months later he put everything together and the next thing we know we’re building a 4,500-square-foot restaurant with a 1,400-square-foot event space next door.
What will set you apart?
My passion is sourcing as local as possible. I want to crack that code. There are restaurants that say they source local and if you ask where they get their beef, it could be from [a national distributor]. Who’s to say that’s actually local? It could be raised in Kansas, slaughtered in Colorado and called local.
I’ve spoken with [local food distributor] FoodMaven and said, ‘Hey, I’m working with a pig farmer and two cattle farms. … What can I do to have them run their meat through you to me and give you the ability to source truly local meat from this area to other restaurants in town? … FoodMaven picks it up and others can buy directly from them knowing that that meat is definitely coming from Colorado. It’s in the works. I want FoodMaven to grow because I love their business model and want to be a part of that.
Is there enough supply locally?
Everybody complains about supply but nobody has gone to the rancher or farmer and said what they need. The other big thing with chefs is their unwillingness to move their [suppliers] much. … Why are you relying on one rancher or farmer? … Why don’t we have relationships with all of them instead of just one of them?
Those are the relationships we’ve never built and I want to build them.
Talk about the military component.
We’ve already started one program where we bring [active duty military] to work in local restaurant kitchens. … I’d like to find some veterans to work with me in the butcher shop and, maybe 18 months from now, I’m going to find a chunk of land and I’m going to build greenhouses on it. Then I want to take veterans to work in the greenhouse and grow all of my vegetables for my restaurant. Whatever is left can go to [other local restaurateurs] and hopefully they’ll catch on. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I have more land. Why don’t you invest in a greenhouse and I’ll have the veterans grow your stuff for you?’ Ideally they would do this for about five years and then the business would become theirs.
We can do the same thing with a pig farmer. We’ll send veterans out to take care of the pig farm, and down the road we’ll invest to start another pig farm for a small group of veterans. … You figure, if you have 30 little farms, you can get everything you need for your restaurant.
How does one become a world-renowned butcher?
To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I get asked that a lot. … I think marketing helps a lot. I’m one of those learn-as-you-go people and I had to figure out the marketing on my own. Early on I was butchering for Hosea Rosenberg at his restaurant Blackbelly in Boulder. Hosea was a ‘Top Chef’ winner. I thought I could use that opportunity. Hosea’s well-known and has a following and he said, ‘You should be posting on social media,’ so I started doing that more. I also went online and found a men’s magazine called ‘The Manual,’ which had an article about a chef doing meat. I found the writer, sent an email and said, ‘My name is Jason and here’s a short blurb on what I do.’
Two days later they said they’d love to do a story on me and, boom, I’m in ‘The Manual.’ The next thing you know 5280 [Magazine] and 303 Magazine are reaching out to me. After ‘The Manual,’ I didn’t send feelers, they started coming to me.
I think the pinnacle of my existence in the butcher world was when the Army took me on to teach them. No one else in the nation was doing it, and that’s an interesting story.