El Gaucho Beef and The Creation of an Exclusive Brand

This is part two in a four-part series detailing our beef program and what makes it so special.  Did you know the most elite, sought-after Angus beef there is came about through the vision of our founder and owner, Paul Mackay? Since the beginning, we wanted to offer our guests something so exclusive that they’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it anywhere in the world. And that still holds true today.

El Gaucho founder Paul Mackay helped create the Certified Angus Beef Prime brand. Photo courtesy Fred Minnick

El Gaucho founder Paul Mackay helped create the Certified Angus Beef Prime brand. Photo courtesy Fred Minnick

It started with a cigar and a casual chat one evening in Whistler, B.C. Two men, though different in their chosen career paths, shared a common vision on how to set themselves apart from competitors: Quality.

Those men were Paul Mackay, who, just four years earlier, opened El Gaucho Seattle in the model of its iconic namesake, and John Tarpoff, a meat packer from Rapid City, S.D., who was producing beef that was far exceeding the quality measures in place for both the Certified Angus Beef ® brand and USDA Prime.

John Tarpoff collaborated with Paul Mackay to create the Certified Angus Beef Prime brand.

John Tarpoff collaborated with Paul Mackay to create the Certified Angus Beef Prime brand.

What’s the difference between the two?

  • USDA Prime requires a greater amount of marbling (those white flecks within the red meat) than Certified Angus Beef ® brand cuts. Those flecks melt upon cooking, resulting in a juicy, flavorful eating experience.
  • Certified Angus Beef ® brand cuts must meet 10 quality standards, including having a high degree of marbling, in order to qualify for the brand. These uncompromising standards promise to deliver a consistent, tender, juicy eating experience – every time.

But what about beef that hit both the Certified Angus Beef ® brand’s requirements AND had the marbling to qualify for Prime?

At the time there was no such thing. Sure, there may have been some beef that qualified for both, but there was no way a restaurant could specify that as the only beef they offered. So, Mackay and Tarpoff struck up an agreement: Tarpoff would supply Mackay with only beef that qualified for the Certified Angus Beef ® brand and USDA Prime, and Mackay, so certain it would be a boon for his guests, would pay a premium for the product.

USDA Beef Grade Chart

USDA Beef Grade Chart

“When I tasted it, I said ‘Wow!’” Mackay recalls. “Immediately, I got on the phone with Bob LaGassey from (distributor) SmithCo Meats and said I wanted an exclusive on it. We carved out a niche with it.”

Not long after he got his first taste, Mackay rolled out the product, which was also 28-day, dry-aged for additional flavor and tenderness, to his customers. What ensued, as they say, is history.

The product was such a success with Gaucho guests that it spurred a revolution. After Mackay and Tarpoff launched their experiment, the brand officially unveiled “Certified Angus Beef ® brand Prime.” Soon after, Gaucho would be joined by a few others in an elite group of restaurants offering the top 1.5 percent of all beef – Certified Angus Beef ® brand Prime.

The Certified Angus Beef brand Prime logo - the stamp of quality!

The Certified Angus Beef brand Prime logo

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