A Quest Begins (Part I)

“Going West,” Therese Desjardin. Used with permission.

We were sitting in a steakhouse in downtown Grand Rapids on a Thursday afternoon, Ben and I, conversing over a couple of beers. It was May, and he was interested in my idea for a steak company and wanted to hear more. It was in the course of conversation that Ben that suggested that I make an adventure out of the launch of the business–that I hit the road in search of the best beef out there. It could be a cross-country trek, spanning the better part of the summer: each week I could blog about the ranches and farms that were visited and about the characters that were met along the way. Admittedly, the idea had a certain appeal; after all, it tapped into a man’s sense of going on an adventure, of partaking in some great quest, which is especially appealing when that adventure takes you West: to Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Visions of cowboys, horses, dust, and sage brush begin to swirl in one’s mind.  But, like water, we tend to seek the path of least resistance, and since my Family at Duba’s Restaurant had worked with a local butcher for a number of years who had a very good product, it was just as well that this relationship was continued. The quest was allowed to simply pass by the wayside and was nearly forgotten…

As the Year 2011 drew to a close, on a routine call to our butcher, I received some startling news: this beef company had just made the decision that it needed to sell. The news was jarring. It took a while to recover from the shock of it all, but inevitably shock gave way to the excitement of the limitless opportunities that now existed in the search of a product that could eclipse what otherwise would have been. That was when two scenes, unbidden, flashed before my eyes. The first was the history of Notre Dame’s famous Golden Dome. As only a student, an alumnus, or a die-hard Notre Dame fan could tell you, prior to April 23, 1879, Notre Dame’s dome sat atop a wooden structure, painted in white and gilded not in gold but tin.  That fateful Spring morning, a fire decimated the structure. Inspecting the ruins, Edward Sorin, CSC, Notre Dame’s founder and first president, saw the hand of Providence at work and declared that a new main building would be built, but this this time grander than before. And the dome? The dome and its statuary would be ensconced in gold, “so that everyone who passes this way can look up and see why this place succeeds.” As an alumnus of Notre Dame, that was the first scene.

Photograph by Michael Fernandes

The second scene comes from the ’80’s blockbuster Ghostbusters. Drs. Peter Venkman, Raymond Stanz, and Egon Spengler are ousted from the University. It’s that classic exchange between Venkman (played by Bill Murray) and Stanz (played by Dan Akroyd) that played before my eyes  in which Stanz says, “Personally, I like the University. They gave us money and facilities. We didn’t have to produce anything. You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector…They expect results.” Venkman responds, “For whatever reasons, Ray. Call it ‘fate’. Call it ‘luck’. Call it ‘karma’. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that we were destined to get thrown out of this dump…To go into business for ourselves.” It was the starry-eyed optimism of Venkman that, as a child of the ’80s, presented itself to me as the second scene. (And, please, do yourself a favor and watch that scene by clicking here.) So it was that three years after that conversation with Ben that the idea of a quest returned and seized me with a kind of fervor. And so, this June, my wife and I packed up the car and headed West, to Colorado. There I would be meeting with a rancher in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains whose product sounded promising. On the return trip to Michigan, I would be visiting a farm on the plains of Nebraska. That is how this adventure–this quest–to find the great beef began.

Part II of “The Quest Begins…” will be posted next Thursday and will chronicle our trip this June to Colorado.

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