- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

Dennis Cyr has his work cut out for him. The 37-year-old meat manager at the new Giant Food store in Bethesda makes sure the case is fully stocked with fresh, eye-pleasing products, assists customers with special requests and still finds time to cut dozens of pounds of meat a day.
On this day, Mr. Cyr, dressed in a white, slightly stained overcoat and baseball hat touting Angus Beef, starts his afternoon shift inspecting the shelves in the 76-foot meat case at the back end of the store.
He is on the lookout for discolored meats, bloody packaging or anything out of place. Half-way through his inspection, he pulls five packages from the shelves.
Although the meats are usually good for four days, some are bruised after being manhandled by customers or don't look fresh after being exposed to too much light in the meat case.
"You don't want to put anything into the case you wouldn't take home to your family," Mr. Cyr says.
Each day about 30 pounds of meat not good enough to sell are pulled from the shelves. Once a week the discarded product is picked up by an outside company and used in various products such as dog food and makeup, Mr. Cyr says.
Before he can retreat to his behind-the-scenes meat locker, Mr. Cyr is stopped by several customers some asking for specific cuts, others just looking for help with their grocery list.
After assisting one shopper down the aisle in search of Diet Pepsi, Mr. Cyr, with an armful of meat, is asked to cut a package of chicken into thinner pieces. He gets many such requests throughout the day.
"This is a more affluent area with more educated people so they know what to ask for," he says.
Mr. Cyr's "office" isn't behind the 76-foot-long meat case on the first floor. Instead, he and his team of six meat department employees have to trek upstairs to the big "meat room" tucked away in a back corner.
Mr. Cyr says the unusual setup due to space limitations doesn't allow customers to just ring a bell for a butcher to emerge within seconds from behind a window.
In fact it's a far cry from the days of the old-school butcher shop, with slabs of meat hanging from the ceiling in a walk-in meat locker. But Mr. Cyr says this new Giant store will soon have something similar a gourmet meat counter where the meat is freshly cut to order, adding a more personal touch to the service.
The upstairs meat room is set at a cool 48 degrees but Mr. Cyr isn't fazed by the nip in the air.
While his main job is overseeing the meat department and reordering products, he also gets dirty daily.
"I happen to enjoy cutting meat," Mr. Cyr says. "I control my gross profit when I cut the meat."
His department cuts and prepares more than 1,500 pounds of meat for the selling floor each day. Veal is one popular variety at this Bethesda location. The store goes through about 40 to 60 pounds of it a day.
On this afternoon, Australian lamb is on the cutting board.
Mr. Cyr puts a fluorescent orange apron over his coat and wears a pair of cotton gloves under his plastic gloves to protect him from being poked by bones.
He stands in front of an oversized cutting machine, moving a tray, which glides the lamb through the saw, back and forth with his hips. He then takes each piece and trims the fat with a handheld knife, carving quickly and masterfully.
He scrapes the meat to remove any bone dust, also giving it a smooth look.
"I have the option to make something sellable or not sellable because I manufacture it," Mr. Cyr says. "I'm a salesman here. I do what it takes to sell the meat."
He fits two pieces of trimmed lamb on each plate and stacks them on a large tray preparing it for the meat wrapper to finish the job with plastic wrap and labeling. The unwrapped meat moves into the "meat box," an adjoining room that holds about 20,000 pounds of meat and poultry at about 40 degrees.
Mr. Cyr has been with Landover-based Giant for 15 years, starting out in the pharmacy for six months before moving to the meat department.
During his apprenticeship he learned the tools of the trade and the many different kinds of meat available. Now living with his wife and five daughters in Beltsville, he has worked at as many as 50 Giant stores as a traveling meat cutter and then as a meat manager before landing his current position on Arlington Road last month.


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