Sometimes good and bad breaks can come in clusters: A string of fortunate events occurs, boom, boom, boom, and your life changes in a flash. Other times, trials and obstacles fall like dominoes, one by one.
Ryan Jones, 36, has found himself in both places. Standing in Chubs Meats, his Medford butcher shop, he rolled up the sleeve of his plaid shirt to show how the story of each is inked onto his skin. “Here’s the breakdown of chuck, ribs, where your flank comes from,” said Jones in his gravelly voice as he traced a steer tattoo on the inside of his right arm.
On the front of that same arm was an ornate clock, the numerals 2014 etched underneath. That was the year when good fortune came calling for Jones. Then 29, the Selden native was a touring drummer who went by the name of Ryan McGee. McGee had worked in the food industry since he was 17, mostly in butcher shops and meat stores. Although he grew up with his mother, Nina, he had never known who his father was; his wife, Christine, pushed him to find out.
“It was life-changing on a lot of levels,” said Jones. He discovered his dad was a retired probation officer named Mike Jones. The elder Jones was thrilled to unite with a son he never knew he had, but McGee—who soon took the name Jones—also gained an extended family who immediately embraced him. It included one Uncle Dan, his dad’s brother, who got right down to brass tacks. “You want to work for someone and make a paycheck, or you want to work for yourself and make a life for yourself?” Dan Jones asked his nephew.
As it happens, a 60-year-old butcher shop called Chubs was for sale on Route 112. It needed serious TLC, but with Uncle Dan’s backing, the younger Jones purchased and revamped the place—replacing old equipment, putting in new floors and cases, and loading those cases with Sterling Silver brand New York strip steaks, veal, pork chops, house-ground sausage and chicken pinwheels. The reimagined Chubs opened on May 3, 2014, with exactly one other employee.
With its wood-paneled walls and hero menu, Chubs Meats felt sort of like a deli, but it wasn’t; it was a butcher shop, but also a meat lab of sorts, with a changing roster of fantastical creations such as bacon-wrapped turkey breast stuffed with mac-and-cheese. It didn’t matter that there were no seats—people came, and lingered. “You didn’t necessarily have to buy anything when you came into my shop,” Jones said. “We’d have a bunch of people who hung out there for hours. Hang out, buy a sandwich, it was like the barber shop.”
“If you’re good to people, they’ll be good to you.”Ryan Jones
Drivers, mothers, teachers, cops, party planners, they all came. As did fire departments—lots of fire departments. “When he opened, I was hooked,” said Neil Heffernan of the Holbrook Fire Department, one of 16 departments who rely on Chubs for catering and the bucketloads of meat cooked at meetings and fundraisers. “I feed about 25 to 30 guys at a time. I would tell him how much I wanted to spend, and he would be on point every time.”
By 2019, business was screaming. Christine Jones handled catering, Jones’ brother-in-law Thomas Snyder managed the place and Jones had 18 people working for him—not only cutting down porterhouses or breading chicken cutlet boats but taking orders out to people’s cars in the rain and bantering with everyone who walked in the door. “If you’re good to people, they’ll be good to you,” Jones said, who supports local teams and fundraisers. During the federal government shutdown in early 2019, Chubs offered every federal employee a box of free cutlets and ground beef.
Inevitably, Jones began to think about expansion. When a hero shop in Farmingville came up for sale, he bought it and plotted his second business, a hero, burger and burrito store. Then the dominoes started to fall and began to box him in.
Christine was pregnant with their second child (their first, Mason, was born in 2017). The couple were buying a new house at the same time Jones was renovating the hero store; and as all of this was going down, his 96-year-old grandmother, Vincenza, became ill. “She taught me to cook and helped raise me. The reason I’m in the food business is my grandmother,” Jones said. “She kept me going. Anytime I had a bad week or a bad this or that, I would just call her. When she started to fade, that took a lot out of me.”
In the summer of 2019, he felt himself disconnecting. “My mental health was really challenged. I had so many people relying on me—not just my family, but all of my employees,” said Jones. “My daughter was going to be born. The madness of our business in Medford. Trying to be a husband, trying to be a father. We were moving. Just a combination of so much. It got to the point I didn’t want to be in any of my stores.”
The darker side of success is not often talked about—the havoc it can wreak in an overstressed mind. Jones would create menus for the new spot, then ball them up, disgusted at himself. “It was the most profitable my business had ever been, and I couldn’t even enjoy it, or be proud of myself or my staff or my family or anyone else.”
December brought things to a crescendo: His grandmother died. He and Christine closed on their new house. The butcher shop cranked through Christmas Eve, one of the busiest days of the year, when the line for orders wraps around the block. The couple’s daughter, Delaney, was born. And in the midst of it all, somehow Jones grounded himself. “I had to regroup. I wanted to do it for [Vincenza],” he said, and he turned his attention to getting the new place open.
The menu remained an albatross, though. “It’s easier writing a 10- or 12-page catering menu than it is writing a sandwich menu.” Then it struck him: Take the burden out of his own mind and ask the people close to him what they wanted.
A best friend chose roast beef, bacon, Cheddar and onion rings on a garlic hero. “I said, ‘all right, that’s your sandwich.’ ” It became the Super T. Jones asked another friend, “Hey, you can have any burrito—think of something.” Corned beef, pastrami, Swiss cheese, French fries and sauerkraut—that became The Wondo.
Jones also worked with a bakery down Horseblock Road for custom sesame-covered rolls of a specific size and shape. “It all finally clicked,” said Jones, and Chubs Burgers Burritos and Heroes opened in January. It’s a cheery, cozy shop with no indoor tables, but an almost immediate clientele for heroes and burritos that are seemingly stuffed until not a single thing more can fit in.
Jones now shuttles back and forth between the two businesses, about a seven-minute drive. When the coronavirus shook the food industry, orders at the butcher shop exploded, and he and his crew found themselves working nonstop for weeks. Jones still seems slightly in awe of everything he thinks the world has given him. It doesn’t stop him from teasing customers, though, or not taking himself too seriously. “If I can’t make fun of you, we can’t have a good time,” Jones said, his beard longer and grayer than it was back in 2014. “There’s a lot of serious stuff going on in the world. Coming to the butcher shop should not be one of them.”