Greg Gilles is known throughout South Whidbey as a respected homebuilder.
But there’s a secret about the Maxwelton man that many may not know. His calloused hands and permanently bent index finger aren’t just from swinging a hammer — it’s from years of holding a knife.
A fifth generation butcher from Evansville, Indiana, Gilles was strapping on a tool belt of metal and chain long before he ever picked up one filled with nails and tape measures. On his resume are positions at five state and federally inspected plants such as Oberto’s in Seattle.
In as soon as two weeks, he’ll be dusting off those knives and slicing into South Whidbey agriculture.
Gilles and his son, Nathan, are on the verge of opening 7 Generations Artisan Meats, a home-based butcher business serving Whidbey Island. Nathan Gilles is sixth generation, and his son, 5-year-old Liam, makes seven.
“We’re all really excited about it,” Greg Gilles said.
7 Generations Artisan Meats won’t fit the image of the historical corner butcher shop, as it’s not certified by the United States Department of Agriculture for direct sales of unprocessed meats. In other words, one can’t swing by the store and pick up a steak or ribs for dinner.
They can, however, sell processed meats such as sausage. When it comes to links, Gilles knows his stuff. They will offer 33 different products, from French, Italian, Polish and Irish sausages to smoked Hungarian links and salamis, and a few recipes from the family book. These are gourmet quality products, meant to rival high-end shops in Pike Street Market, but with real-world prices, Gilles said.
“I don’t want to be in the food business unless the average person can afford to buy our products ... it’s not a luxury item,” he said.
But direct sales are only one part of the business model. 7 Generations will also offer mobile butchering services to island farmers, and they’ll be the only Whidbey-based company to do so.
Mount Vernon-based butchers offer the same service, and are utilized by many Whidbey farmers, but they can be busy and scheduling a visit can be a month away, said Karen Bishop, director of the Whidbey Conservation Island District.
“There’s a great opportunity for beef,” she said.
Leland Long, of Long Family Farm, is located a few miles down the road from the Gilles’ and confirmed he will likely be a customer. His regular off-island butcher does a good job, but 7 Generations is local and supporting Whidbey businesses is important, he said.
“It’s a great deal,” Long said. “I’m all for it and will use them when I can.”
According to Bishop, the businesses will be a big lure for smaller operations, farms or families with one or two animals, such as sheep. The benefit is that a local and mobile butcher will come out for a single animal where off-island counterparts won’t make the trip unless it’s for a handful of animals.
The Gilles’ have outfitted a refrigerated truck to provide the service, which will be primarily manned by Nathan Gilles. His father will run the shop, with the help of his wife, Susan Gilles, and of course Liam.
It may be a few years before he’s putting in long hours like his dad and grandfather, but he’s guaranteed an apron.
“He’s pretty excited about it,” said a proud Greg Gilles. “He said, ‘Poppy, I get to run the hot dog-making machine.’”
Finally, the shop will process wild game for South Whidbey’s hunting community. They can’t accept poultry, but deer, elk and other big game are welcome. It’s expected to be a big part of the business.
Greg Gilles confirmed that he will continue to operate Kamera & Gilles with his business partner, Dennis Kamera. He said they’ve earned a good name in the county by working hard and treating people fairly, values he plans to apply to 7 Generations.
“It’s all about doing a good job,” he said.
The business has one last permit to obtain, which is expected to take about two weeks. For more information, visit www.7generations-artisan-meats.com.