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Capital Meat’s Arthur “Arty” Alafoginis — a tribute

Arty Alafoginis (m) in 2015 with daughter Eleni and son Frank, in Capital Meat’s dry age room (credit: Mark Gail)

By all accounts, Arthur “Arty” Alafoginis was a character, with friendships that transcended all barriers. Whether in the meat business, the wider food industry, on the golf course, in the Greek church he attended, or from his childhood growing up in D.C., he was that guy who made everyone feel like a friend.
Arty died this past June after a two-year battle with cancer. But his legacy lives on in his business — Capital Meat Company — in his family, and in colleagues who remember him well.
Bart Farrell, director of food and beverage at Clyde’s Restaurant Group, says Arty’s knowledge of meat was legend. The two met in 1984 when Arty was at Bay State Beef and Farrell was a purchasing agent at the Old Ebbitt Grill. On a visit to Bay State, Farrell says, “I saw this big guy in a white coat and a warm hat, carrying sides of beef across his shoulder like they were five-pound weights.” In those days, meat was hung on guide rails and moved on hooks around the cutting room. “We hit it off immediately,” Farrell says. Arty was “one of the most knowledgeable butchers I’ve ever met. He taught several chefs and purchasing managers about meat and butchering. He was the last of the Mohicans when it came to butchering.”
As the years passed, the Alafoginis and Farrell families came to know each other outside of the business. “Our friendship grew over the years,” says Farrell. “Our families know each other…they are like my own family. Arty was one of my closest and dearest friends. When they made him, they broke the mold for sure!”
David Fanaroff, owner of Spectrum Foods, knew Arty for 34 years. When they first met, Fanaroff was new in the meat business, working for a turkey processor. “When I met him, he was a big guy, very confident,” says Fanaroff. “I was unconfident.” But Arty made the young Fanaroff feel comfortable, and, over the years, they became friends. “He was a character in a positive way,” says Fanaroff. “What I mean, he had a personality that he could carry himself extremely well…and in all my years working with him, I never saw him ever get upset, even when things messed up. He had an easy demeanor in talking to people…easy-going, happy, nice guy.”
To make the point, Fanaroff cited a story from last November when he was airlifted to a local hospital with serious health issues. Arty was in the same hospital. “He found out I was in the hospital and came over to where my family was to share his concern, even with the cancer he was going through.”
Arty Alafoginis was not born to work in the meat industry. In fact, he wanted to be a history teacher. His dad George was a Greek immigrant who started a wholesale meat business in the 1940s — the Fresh Grind Meat Company — out of his garage on Prospect Street in D.C., selling cuts of meat to local families and restaurants. When George had a heart attack, Arty joined his brother Peter at what, by then, had become the Bay State Beef Company on L Street in Northwest D.C., and Arty’s history teacher idea was, well, history.
Arty did all the jobs he needed to do to learn the business — from loading and driving the meat truck to the clean-up crew in the meat cooler — before he ever learned to butcher. And then he REALLY learned how to butcher. Says son Frank, “He was really really good at what he did. He knew all parts of the animal. He was great at buying the product, great at figuring out which suppliers had the best quality and yield. He was very detailed. He never wavered from his original goal to provide great quality, great service.”
After Arty’s brother Peter died in 1989, Arty ran Bay State until 1995 when the Hecht company bought his 80,000-square-foot building. Arty sold the business side of the company to Sysco and tried retirement. It was not a good match for this gregarious, hard-charging guy! In 2002, he decided to launch a new meat company — Capital Meat — from scratch. “What allowed him to grow a new business,” Frank notes, “was extreme hard work and determination.” Not to mention the support from wife Joanne, who Frank says, “was equally responsible for the success of the business.”
Today at the independently-owned Capital Meat Company, there are 50 employees, many with careers nurtured by Arty. “There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his employees,” Frank says. “Whatever he could do — teaching people about butchering meat, helping people learn sales — he was well respected and did what he could to benefit his employees, including health care, or paying for sick leave, or extended maternity leave.” Arty’s number one goal, Frank continues, “was his employees’ happiness.”
Arty also loved working with chefs and restaurateurs. “He built so many relationships with them, whether he worked with them or not, with his really outgoing personality,” Frank says. “He had a way of listening to people and making people feel important — whether it was clients, employees, or someone he randomly met at an event or wedding.
Frank Alafoginis is Arty’s successor as president of the Capital Meat Company. Arty’s daughter Eleni works there, too, overseeing online ordering. (Older brother George works for Facebook.) Frank says his dad never forced or even encouraged him to be in the business. “In fact, he wouldn’t let me!” Frank laughs. “He made me go work somewhere else first! He let me chase any dreams I had and was always there for me. I couldn’t have asked for anything better in a dad or a boss.”
Losing such a well-loved family member is difficult for any family. “But he’s still with us in a lot of ways,” says Frank. The Capital Meat Company will continue to strive for many of Arty’s goals — paying attention to food trends, monitoring changing ingredients, providing antibiotic-free chicken, lamb, beef, and pork, buying locally and regionally, and providing humanely-raised options for every product the company sells. “I had 31 years with him,” says Frank. “He taught me many great lessons. I know what to do to carry on in his memory and make him proud and continue on the way he wanted us to. He will certainly not be forgotten.”

About the Author

LISA KEATHLEY is the managing editor of Foodservice Monthly.

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