Pat LaFrieda, Jr. is the owner of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors {3701 Tonnelle Avenue, North Bergen; 201.537.8210;}. The famed third-generation meat wholesaler specializes in dry-aged steaks, artisanal burger patties, and a variety of high-quality select cuts including lamb, beef, pork and buffalo, among others for almost a century. In March, he spoke with childhood friend Melanie Landano, the bubbly owner of Mel’s Butcher Box – a new brick-and-mortar on wheels serving up hot-off-the-grill burgers and cheesesteaks made to order with the company’s ground beef to tailgate parties and beyond. At his home base in North Bergen, LaFrieda opened up about how he helped shape a modest family business into a household name, his foray into the culinary world working with celebrity chefs, and the secret to running a business well done.

Melanie Landano: We grew up in Brooklyn together and I remember going to your house and seeing the van that said Pat LaFrieda and Sons in your driveway and I was jealous because I wanted to eat meat every day for dinner. I knew that you were the guy in the neighborhood where you can get a good steak. How did you and your dad get the company to grow so big and become what it is today?

Pat LaFrieda, Jr.: We have known each other a long time. I don’t have many friends I’m in touch with for the majority of my life and that’s something that has been special between us and the culture we have at LaFrieda. It is one big family.

Melanie: You were in the army and went to the New York Stock Exchange and had no plans of working in a warehouse cutting meat talking to customers or even working with our family, so how did that all happen?

Pat: I was forbidden to join the family business because I was the college generation who was supposed to do something better with my life. I was a stockbroker. There’s no bad aspect to that job other than I didn’t know my customer. I didn’t know if I was going to be making them money or not and it was about the brokerage fee. Growing up in the family business knowing we sold meat to customers that helped them make money for chefs and restaurateurs – that made sense. I thought I could use my education to grow the business. My dad had just lost his dad a few years prior, and I don’t think he had that fire burning anymore. But when I joined and started building the business up right back until today at 2:30am through Covid, he’s still here every day.

Melanie: You were the person that put LaFrieda on the map, making celebrity chefs those special blend burgers, making special cuts of meat. And you talk to them personally. How did you decide to do that rather than have a salesperson talk to them?

Pat: We didn’t have salespeople. We weren’t big enough to have a salesperson. I would go to work with my dad on days off and my dad had this really important system. If a family member was coming in, there was no nepotism. I wasn’t the boss’s son. I was to report to the lowest-ranking person there. So I did everything from cleaning the shop to cutting meat to putting up orders to be the driver’s helper. Being a driver’s helper was great in learning who the chefs were. Getting into their kitchens, access that some people don’t have. And getting to know them and what they wanted was vital. Celebrity chefs weren’t celebrities then, but as they grew in the industry I grew in the industry, and they never forget how well I treated them. Their loyalty lived on well past becoming celebrity chefs.

Melanie: Can you name a few that you’ve worked with?

Pat: Joe and Lydia Bastianich, Anne Burrell, Mark Murphy, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart was already a celebrity, but getting to work with people like that and treating them as if they are very important but not celebrities is why they liked me. I treat them the way they want to be treated. Just as a regular person.

Melanie: How did the LaFrieda burger become the LaFrieda burger? How did you become the official burger of Shake Shack or the amazing burgers they sell in New Jersey at these great restaurants? What blend is the best?

Pat: It really has to do with my grandfather’s technique. His processes and making sure we were able to scale it up. Keeping those same cuts of beef at those same temperatures. Using and staying with meat that’s raised and grazed only in the U.S. and not an imported product. We were able to develop different blends for restaurants. In New York City there are three restaurants on the same block. How do I service all three and give them each a different experience? That’s why I customize a burger for each one, and the only way to do that is to have the care and the knowledge of how to make those different flavors possible. Otherwise, only one restaurant on the street might want to buy from one meat purveyor because they want to know what’s different about what they’re serving very early. But really keeping the processes and the beliefs that my grandfather had. My favorite saying of his was, “You can’t just grind anything. You can’t just hide your sins in the grinder. You can’t just take the trimmings and throw them into the grinding machine and make a burger.” We sell those trimmings. Taking whole cuts of beef so you can dictate the flavor, fat content and texture is what’s key.

Melanie: I know you just built a warehouse specifically for burgers. I was fortunate enough to have a burger named after me because of Pat LaFrieda. How many pounds of burgers do you make a day?

Pat: It could be a good 150,000 pounds a night. That’s well over 400,000 burgers. It’s a few million people a week that we feed.

Melanie: Who are some of your New Jersey customers?

Pat: There are staples like The River Palm Terrace. John [Campbell] has been picking out some of the best meat that the country has to offer for many years and it’s an honor to service someone like him. David Burke has made his way into New Jersey in several different restaurants and he’s a talented influential chef that has become a cult figure. Let’s Meat Steakhouse, Shake Shack.

Melanie: I opened my food truck and knew right off the bat I was only using the LaFrieda brand. That’s one of the great things you do for your customers, 24-hour access.

Pat: It’s not about us. We only succeed if our customers succeed.