Chef Marc Zimmerman ventured to the northern reaches of Japan five years ago to the cattle farm in Hokkaido where Chateau Uenae raises cattle dubbed “snow beef.” The A5 wagyu, with its rich marbling, has become some of the most prized steak in the world. The farm keeps around 360 head of cattle and will harvest only eight at a time. That means it’s not something just anyone gets to buy. “It took four to five trips before they’d release it to me,” says Zimmerman, the owner of Gozu in San Francisco. “These relationships can take years to develop.”
To build a tasting menu around beef like he’s done at his restaurant Gozu, which opened last fall, Zimmerman forged relationships across Japan like he did with Chateau Uenae. He constantly looked for the best product and purveyors in order to understand the nuance of different breeds of cattle raised in different ways. And he created such a robust conduit to premium Japanese beef that he and his partners launched a beef distribution business, A-Five Meats, before Gozu even opened, so they could supply other Bay Area restaurants as well.
But as the Covid-19 crisis dried up business to restaurants (and Gozu remained closed because of a kitchen fire around New Year’s) Zimmerman and team pivoted. They’d put so much work into building relationships with Japanese farms that they didn’t want to throw that sweat equity away. Besides, the farms are operating even if the restaurants aren’t. “Animals don’t stop eating just because we’re in a pandemic. The farms in the country are still cranking, you can’t just freeze it out—that’s how you’d put them out of business,” Zimmerman says. “We thought, let’s figure out how to move the steak.”
So, like other steakhouses around the country, they’re making their ultra-premium beef available directly to the public by turning Gozu into a pop-up butcher shop. Even better, along with offering that selection of wagyu beef, they’re shipping a curation of premium steak nationwide for $600 per box.
Some may get a little bit of sticker shock seeing the $600, but A-Five needed to make the orders big enough to make sense logistically. So, they’re filling it with a large selection of both wagyu and angus. “It’s 15 lbs of beef—it’s 30 steaks,” says Zimmerman of the haul buyers will receive. Right now, that includes 8 oz. wagyu strips and tenderloins, angus hanger steaks, thick cut dry-aged bone in angus ribeyes and more.
Zimmerman is keeping the contents of the box flexible in order to mix things up for repeat customers, but to also respond to where his suppliers may have excess inventory. “The box continually evolves to meet need,” Zimmerman says. “It’s a relationship driven by team effort.”
The steaks ship fresh, not frozen, with the meat vacuum-sealed to allow it to last for three weeks in the fridge and longer in the freezer, though Zimmerman suggest not freezing for longer than two months. For those living in the San Francisco area, they can order individual steaks online through Tock—as well as poultry, pork and more—and then pick-up at Gozu. The team has seen success so far with the butcher shop and steak boxes, enough to consider continuing operations after the crisis ends. Of course, they’ll have to find another place to host the shop, as Zimmerman fully intends to open Gozu again as a restaurant.