DOWNTOWN PEOPLE: The Prime of Young Dan Johnston
It takes a while for customers to get used to a new face in an old shop. Not so with Dan Johnston.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
It takes a while for customers to get used to a new face in an old shop. Not so with Dan Johnston. Three years ago, the young man started working at Crisfield’s, Rye’s premier butcher for four decades, and he connected with the job like a prime burger on a toasted bun. Not only did he learn all the different cuts of meat, but he won over longtime customers in no time with his endearing demeanor.
Sure, the fact that Dan is the son of owners John and Jackie Johnston might have eased the transition, but he took the bull by its horns and embraced the entire operation. The Georgetown University graduate didn’t always intend to follow in his folks’ footsteps. As a matter of fact, he worked for Morgan Stanley for three and a half years before he did.
“My parents asked me if I wanted to try out the family business and presented me with the opportunity to learn,” he recalled. “I eagerly accepted.”
He was also determined to provide his parents, who live and breathe the shop, with a little free time. Although he grew up in the shadow of the popular meat market, he was in for a few surprises.
“I’ve learned how much work it is to run a small business,” he acknowledged. “I like it a lot. It’s a fast-paced environment and we’re competing with every other food store in the county. We’re fortunate that Rye is a great place where people are loyal and smart shoppers.”
Dan may not be on par with his dad, who can dexterously French cut a chicken breast in record time, but he has certainly developed a deep-seated appreciation and mastery of many aspects of the business.
“What we practice is a lost art, “ he remarked. “The quality of our meat is unrivaled. We specialize in prime beef, but we also have plenty of alternatives, like 100 percent grass-fed beef from upstate New York and natural and organic beef from a family-owned farm.”
Dan also extols the virtues of the market’s American organic lamb, humanely raised pasteurized veal, Berkshire Heritage pork, and Bell & Evans all-natural chicken. As far as Crisfield’s scrumptious prepared foods and deli selections, his personal favorite is the homemade prime top round roast beef with white American cheese on a roll.
About the only side of the business that hasn’t rubbed off is the shop’s traditional home-cooking. “I like to grill, but I’d leave it at that,” he admitted.
Proud that Crisfield’s is one of the last mom-and-pops in town, he noted, “It’s well-deserved.” The youngest of three sons is also pleased to have forged a solid professional relationship with his parents. “Aside from the occasional scuffles about my texting, we work together well,” he said. “I think we have a pretty good system.”
Like all good things, Dan’s stint here may come to an end. With both corporate and small business experience under his belt, he is applying to business school. Whatever comes to fruition in his personal life, Dan says: “I hope to keep Crisfield’s in the family.”