By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
Not everyone can say they had a first job like Abou Sow. At 11 years old, he began working at his uncle’s slaughterhouse in Jamaica, Queens. He learned how to slaughter animals according to halal standards — one pass of a clean knife blade across the animal’s throat. Sow, now 26, quickly learned the method and continued working for his uncle throughout high school. Since then, he has pursued other careers (at one point he contemplated becoming an MMA fighter) but eventually found his way back to the meat industry. To him, it’s art.
“There is art involved in [the meat industry], so while someone may be creating music, painting, dancing, fighting, cooking or butchering, there is always the art aspect to it,” he says. “You’re creating your own masterpiece and with artisan craft butchery you’re using your hands to create meat pieces that are kind of like art pieces specific to customer requests: garnishing the meat, stuffing the meat, tying the meat — creating art out of carcasses.”
Sow had dreams of opening up his own butchery and he began by doing so in a classically millennial way: selling his products through Instagram. Beginning In January 2020, people would order fresh meat via Instagram DM and Sow would deliver. When the pandemic shut businesses down and people were wary of venturing out, requests for fresh meat delivered directly to people’s doors increased exponentially.
“Once the pandemic hit, people were ordering nonstop and I was making deliveries across New York City,” Sow says. “Through the holiday season I was delivering fresh turkeys for people and taking care of their Christmas roast.”
In early 2021, Sow was able to get a license to officially sell his products. The Queens Economic Development Corporation helped him obtain a walk-in fridge to store meat, which meant he could take larger orders. He quickly amassed a loyal customer base and began to outgrow the walk-in fridge; it was time for his own butchery.
“I was going from storefront to storefront, landlord to landlord, broker to broker with a letter of intent,” Sow says. “None of the storefronts I was looking at came through. Finally, a vacant storefront on Steinway Street fell into my lap.”
In August 2021, he signed the lease for Prince Abou’s Butchery, and one year later he opened his own space.
“It feels good [to open my own business] but it also feels normal,” Sow says. “I’ve been envisioning this for several years and so all the excitement and ‘wow’ isn’t really there because I’ve already seen it a thousand times in my head.”
Prince Abou’s Butcheryis also a “whole animal” butcher shop, which means it has every single cut that can come from an animal, which creates a more sustainable way of butchering.
“Instead of just ordering a filet mignon, a T-bone steak or a ribeye, we encourage customers to buy and try out some short ribs, lamb shank or a buvette,” Sow says.
But what makes Prince Abou’s Butchery different from the rest is its modern approach to selling meat. Sow doesn’t want it to be another meat shop, he wants Prince Abou’s Butchery to be a brand.
Meat for sale at Prince Abou’s Butchery. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado
“It’s a brand first and it’s what makes us different,” Sow says. “We are creating a community made up of astounding individuals that come from so many different walks of life but we are finding ourselves inside this butcher shop. [I hope to connect] with chefs, musicians, artists and butchers from around the country. It’s more of a community than a butcher shop.”
Prince Abou’s Butchery is also special because it’s one of the rare Black-owned butcher shops in New York.
“I think it’s important for Black youth to see representations of themselves in several, if not all industries. A lot of the time if you don’t see someone who looks like you in the industry, you think you can’t participate in it,” Sow says. “I think with what I am doing, it’s important for Black youth to see it and think ‘I want to open a butcher shop too.’”
Sow has received mentoring and other assistance from the nonprofit Black Butchers United. Having a Black-owned butcher shop in the community means customers get to try products they might not normally encounter. At Prince Abou’s, customers can buy dibi slices, very thinly sliced lamb shoulder that is grilled and marinated with Dijon mustard, a preparation popular in Senegal, where Sow’s family comes from.
“Every butcher shop has a certain culture to it, you have butcher shops that are owned by Russians, butcher shops that are owned by Arabs or Germans and they will also incorporate their [culture] into their own cutting style,” he says. “When customers ask me for dibi slices, I can prepare here because it is natural to my culture.”
Sow hopes to expand to other locations like Harlem and the Bronx, but for now he is focused on turning Prince Abou’s Butchery into a household name in Queens.
Visit Prince Abou’s Butchery Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 32-88 Steinway St., Queens. Show this article in person when you shop and receive 10% off your order.