Having grown up on a farm with 13 brothers and sisters, William “Bill” Mason, 67, is no stranger to hard work. He started working for a butcher as just a teenager and now, 50 years later; he owns and operates his own store, aptly named The Butcher Shop, in his hometown of Columbus.
“I started out worked for Tommy Comer, who had a store in Macon, Mississippi,” said Mason. “I later went to work for Big Star Grocery for Audie Pennington and Jimmy Wilder. I worked for them until June of 1994 when Big Star closed. After that, I had a lot of customers that depended on me for meat, so I decided to open up my own place.”
Mason didn’t miss a day of work when the Big Star closed. He opened the back doors of the former grocery store and sold meat from there until he could build his own store, which he did at 108 13th St. N. next to the location of the old grocery store, which is now a Dollar General.
The Butcher Shop has been in business 18 years and Mason runs the store with his daughter and son in law.
He says his secret is to always keep his meat “a cut above the rest.” He keeps a policy of custom cutting every piece of meat for freshness. “People don’t like for meat to have been sitting on someone’s meat counter for days,” he said. “We don’t cut any meat, even ground meat, until after orders are taken.”
Mason says a popular choice is what he calls the “his and hers” combo. “The guy will come in and order, but say that she doesn’t eat as much…” he said. So Mason cuts a thick steak for him, and a smaller cut for her.
Mason most enjoys helping people who don’t know exactly what they want or need. “That’s the best thing about having long term experience. A lot of people don’t know what kind of cut they need for particular meats, but my experience in cuts and cooking benefits them.
As if on cue, the phone rings and a customer asks for advise on an order beef tips. She isn’t sure what kind of cut she needs, so Mason asks if she plans to stew or braise them. Because she is planning to braise, Mason recommends a higher cut and takes her order, to be picked up later in the day.
Because they also offer meat and sides for pick-up catering, his advice is often used to help people plan how much food they need for events. “Customer Service is very important,” he said. “The big grocery stores don’t usually have time to go out and help the customer plan the event. If I need to spend a half-hour here talking about the event, I will. I want to help them figure out what they need.”
In addition to meat, cut to customer specifications, Mason also makes a fairly famous marinade, which is made from a very secret recipe. “Many people have asked us for the recipe… even offered money for it,” he said. “But it’s not going anywhere. I think it helps to keep us in business.”
A Family Affair
Mason grew up in Lowndes County on a farm where his family grew cotton for cash crop, and had chickens and cows for eggs, dairy and meat. They even planted a cane patch for their own sugar.
“We raised cane… literally,” he said jokingly. “This was before everything could be gotten from the store.”
Because he was needed to work on the farm, Mason never finished high school. He said he was encouraged by a teacher to seek a trade since he couldn’t attend classes. “I have no regrets,” he said of not completing his education. “It could not have worked out better for me. I wouldn’t advise that to children now though.”
He has two children, Cynthia, who is a manager at Books-A-Million, and Dawn, who helps him run the shop. He also has five grandchildren.
A Man of Many Talents
In addition to catering, Mason also dabbles in beekeeping. He sells his own brand of homegrown honey, Nature’s Nectar, made from clover nectar from bees on his property. “It’s good… or at least people seem to think it is,” he said smiling. “They say if you get honey from where you live, you can build up immunity to any local allergies you may have. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it sure helps me sell a lot of honey.”
The Butcher Shop is located at 108 13th St. N. and can be contacted at 662-328-4311.