Lachy Kerr was at a crossroads: quit being a butcher or run his own shop where he could reduce the gap between farmers and customers.
At the age of 24, he bought the butcher shop where he used to work and visited as a child.
"Nostalgia plays a big part in loving the trade," he said.
"Going into that Australian butcher shop and talking to the butcher and the butcher knows your name, it's something that different generations can all relate to."
Mr Kerr joined the industry just nine days after he finished his high school leaving exams.
But after working as an apprentice he was startled by the lack of knowledge butchers had about where the meat came from.
"There's no way to trace where the meat is from and whether it's grass-fed, grass-finished, and how the animals are being treated," he said.
Embracing ethical meat
"I decided originally I was not going to be a butcher anymore."
Ready to switch careers he was accepted into a furniture-making school when he was told his local butcher shop was up for sale.
The reason he quit became the same reason he opened his own business.
"The reason I'm running my own business was just over some ethical concerns I had with the meat industry in terms of animal welfare, how we were consuming meat, as well as environmental impacts of meat as well," he said.
Mr Kerr bought the Gwyneville butcher, 90 minutes south of Sydney, with his wife, Jessica, when they were 24.
The newlyweds opened the doors to their business Cleaver & Co Quality Meats Wollongong in October 2016.
"We never planned to buy a butcher shop in our 20s," Mr Kerr said.
He was determined to run his store in an ethical way: to buy whole meat from farmers he had spoken with directly and to butcher it themselves.
"Just knowing that you're kind of cutting up beef, pork, lamb, and it's been done in a similar way through the ages, for years and years ... that's a cool feeling," he said.
He sources his produce from NSW and Queensland farmers, including producers from Young, Gunnedah, Oberon and Binnaway.
The meat industry had a lot to answer for, he said, in overgrazing of land and desertification.
"We make sure [that] who we're sourcing from has got animal welfare in mind, but also land welfare," he said.
Making the edge over supermarket chains personal
Providing the "nose to tail" range of meat cuts has worked well for many butchers, Australian Meat Industry Council general manager Stuart Fuller said.
"Their great knowledge and experience of where the meat's come from and how it's been handled and how to prepare it," he said.
Setting the standard for customer service will be the driver for independent butchers in the future to set them aside from supermarkets, Mr Fuller said.
"Being able to walk into any independent local butcher and getting that quality advice, getting that quality product, getting that quality range and complete range as opposed to supermarkets where ... you're restricted to the pack size and the pack weights and there isn't any feedback around how to cook it or how to prepare it," he said.
When the effort pays off
Mr Kerr, now 31 and a father of two, said in hindsight launching a small business in his mid-20s was a good decision.
It was a better time to work the long hours balancing both the physical demands of the butcher work with all the paperwork.
"There is probably a certain level of naivety, which is maybe a good thing because you just throw yourself into things," he said.
They struggled at the beginning to find staff, "experienced people that are also willing to be told what to do by someone younger than them".
"Starting out was tricky in some ways, just trying to have the confidence as a young fella dealing with a lot of older heads in the industry," he said.
While regional small businesses face many hurdles compared to metropolitan areas, there's one strength that shouldn't be overlooked - the fierce support and local pride within communities.
It only takes a few degrees of separation in the regions to know the young people behind these businesses.
There's something innately human about going into a store where they know your name and you know theirs.
Even with a shrinking budget, there's a sense of pride in supporting young people who are giving back to their community.
These business owners are already providing greater transparency in their supply chains which bigger corporations often lack.