Butcher shop opens at Cambridge Square despite meat supply shortages during coronavirus crisis

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ The clock tower at Cambridge Square development faces U.S. Highway 11, (Lee Highway), just west of The Honors Course in Ooltewah.

After battling construction delays, the coronavirus and a meat shortage, Chris Bilbra and his wife Sarah have managed to fulfill a lifetime dream of having their own craft butcher shop and deli in Ooltewah.

The Bilbras opened Spek (the German word for bacon) at Cambridge Square last Saturday as a locally owned and sourced artisan meats outlet specializing in whole animal butchery. Initially, Spek will focus only on take-out sales of meats, sausages, vegetable and breads. But eventually Bilbra plans to also add a sit-down deli in their new 1,600-square-foot storefront next to the new 1885 Grill at Cambridge Square.

Despite the initial challenges, Bilbra said the new venture has been warmly received and he thinks the butcher shop is well located to serve both Hamilton and Bradley counties.

"This is a great location in between our farm and downtown Chattanooga and it's been a great fit for us," Bilbra said. "We were initially hoping to open last November, but the rain and other delays pushed us back. People have been continually asking us when we are going to open and the initial response has been great."

The shop's design mirrors that of traditional butcheries where patrons are encouraged to interact with the proprietors and visit frequently to find out what's new to the display cases.

"We focus on being local and sourcing our meats, vegetable and breads from farms and vendors within 150-mile radius," said Bilbra, who said he is working with about 70 farmers in the area for beef, pork, lamb, chickens and other meats along with fresh vegetables. "We're going to try to make everything you would see at an old world butcher shop."

Three years ago, the Bilbras bought a farm in Bradley County they call Neema Farms where they raise chickens, pigs, cows, goats and horses.

The shutdown of some meat processing plants and panic buying of meats by some consumers due to the coronavirus has created some supply challenges, but Bilbra said he has been able to offer a variety of meats, sausages and fresh produce.

Bilbra, who has been a culinary chef for most of his career and worked as a personal chef in the area for the past 15 years, said he has always wanted to have his own butcher shop similar to European specialty butcher shops. Bilbra has helped open seven restaurants during his career for other people. But the Spek is the first such venture he owns himself.

In addition to their selection of take home meats and other Artisan goods, the Bilbra's will be offering a deli menu for eat-in and take-out patrons, once the restaurant portion of his business opens later. Selections will include freshly made sandwiches, salads, sausages, cheeses, and assorted vegetables.

"The opening of Spek Artisan Meats has been highly anticipated," said Jim Cheney who handles marketing and leasing for Cambridge Square. "The Bilbras have been working very hard to design their space and prepare for customers seeking a butcher shop with locally sourced proteins and other delicious deli items."

The new butcher shop will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays (except Tuesday when it is closed) and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.