Cape Gazette
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The Business of Eating

Hickman’s Meat Market sings with success

By Bob Yesbek | Apr 03, 2012
Photo by: Submitted photo This musician keeps up his chops at Hickman’s Meat Market.

Every so often I like to return to my Mediterranean roots by making a ridiculously complicated Middle Eastern dish called kibbee. Properly prepared with lamb, it’s a major production involving three components, each cooked separately and then married together in assembly-line fashion. The result is delicious - if (that’s a big if) the meat is prepared properly. Lamb is a tricky minefield of fat and a tough film of “silver” that lines some of the muscles.

Unless all that stuff is removed by a butcher who actually cares, the finished dish will suffer. So when the need arose, I was at a loss until somebody suggested I contact Bill Hickman. Long story short (I know, too late…), that was six kibbee extravaganzas ago, and each has been deliciously silver-free. Wow - a butcher who actually cares - about a mile from my house!

There was no doubt that destiny would lead Bill into professional meat cutting. After all, 33 people on his dad’s side of the family are in the meat business! So, at the tender age of 15, Bill started his apprenticeship with respected Wilmington butcher Spiro Haldas. The renowned Haldas Market has more than 90 years of history and still exists today.

After four years in training, Bill opened Doc’s Meat Market in Hockessin. It wasn’t long before a lucrative job opportunity arose where he would be responsible for setting up meat departments in new grocery stores. He sold the business and moved to Wisconsin where he eventually became director of sales for Abbyland Foods. The operation specializes in top-quality sausage products, and during his nine-year tenure, Bill learned from the best. The money was good; the corporate-level position was cushy, but he secretly yearned for his own shop.

Eventually he took the plunge. He brought all his skills to bear, expertly cutting the very best product and even producing his own line of quality sausage. Though he worked hard for almost 20 years, his blue-collar Wisconsin location worked just as hard against him. Friends told him that he offered “gourmet ideas in a welfare area.” Around 1999, he closed the store. “I stayed there three years longer than I should have,” smiles Bill.

Hickman is not only an expert with a cleaver, but he’s pretty handy with a microphone as well. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he was the lead singer for the band 29 East, traveling the Milwaukee and Chicago areas playing R&B and light jazz. Nowadays, his son Will sings and plays guitar, entertaining local diners with ‘60s and ‘70s tunes he learned from Dad.

In the spirit of “don’t quit your day job,” Bill’s brother-in-law suggested he get in on the building boom in the little Sussex town of Rehoboth Beach. He moved here in ‘99 and went from chopping T-bones to cutting 2-by-4s. But the T-bones won out: He found the perfect spot in Shore Plaza, next door to Kevin Reading’s Sweet Dreams Bakery (which eventually morphed into Nage), and in 2001 Hickman’s Meat Market opened its doors.

His philosophy is simple: “If it’s not the best, I don’t want it in my store.” His son Bryan is working on his marketing degree with an eye on taking over. Dad is perfectly happy to take a back seat to both his daughter Jennifer and Bryan. His nephew Mark cuts meat right alongside him, affording Bill the time to give customers what he calls “the personal touch.”

Hickman considers it the ultimate praise when regulars refer to him as “my butcher.” “It’s a relationship built over time and on trust.” In fact, his considerable skills didn’t go unnoticed by a longtime client who is a doctor. As Bill deftly worked his magic at the cutting board, the doctor said, “You have the hands of a surgeon.” Like the stage-savvy frontman he is, Hickman didn’t even miss a beat. “Yeah,” he answered, looking at his handiwork. “And these customers can’t complain.”

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