Anna founded Moonbelly Meat Co. last year and is focused on growing its customer base through an inclusive atmosphere and local, pasture-raised meats
By Rong Huang | Photography by John Michael Simpson
John Gibala hunted and processed deer when his daughter, Anna Gibala, was a young girl, sparking her curiosity. “It was [also] very common for him to pick up roadkill in Durham, so long as the deer was freshly killed and struck in the right area,” Anna says. “I have a vivid memory of stopping on the side of Highway 751 near Duke Forest with my dad on the way back from a cotillion class to load a deer onto his trailer. I was probably 11 or 12 years old and had to remove my white gloves from class to help him load it.”
She’s had an interest in food – butchery, specifically – ever since.
The Durham native pursued the passion after graduating from Riverside High School, attending Johnson & Wales University to earn her associate degree in culinary arts before receiving her bachelor’s in food systems management and nutrition and foods from Appalachian State University in 2013. She returned to Durham briefly, working as a cook at Parizade and the Chirba Chirba Dumpling Truck before she moved to the Bay Area in 2015.
Anna took a job as a line cook at whole-animal butcher and sandwich shop Clove & Hoof, in Oakland, California. There, she learned the basics of butchery, like breaking animals down and making sausages.
“When I made that transition into trying to do more butcher stuff, I really had no idea what I was doing at first,” Anna says. “A lot of it was just getting out of my comfort zone; [it was] a huge learning experience.”
Anna volunteered on the butchery side of the business once or twice a week on her days off while continuing to work full time as a line cook – and did so for about 10 months before she was finally offered a full-time butcher position.
“Being offered [that] role was like, ‘Your hard work has paid off … all of the days off that you’ve come in and worked and tried to learn this new skill,'” Anna says. “That was definitely a really good feeling.”
Anna’s partner, Hart Phillips, got a job in Denver in 2017, and the pair moved east. She worked as a butcher at several shops to gain experience, like woman-owned Western Daughters Butcher Shop, Elevation Artisan Meats and Il Porcellino Salumi. She and Hart then moved to Portland in August 2018, where Anna worked at Tails & Trotters.
After cutting her teeth as a butcher out west, Anna wanted to start her own business to have more freedom to bring her creative ideas into reality and advocate for local sustainable farming. She knew she wanted that company to be in Durham.
“From a business standpoint, it [was] smart for me networking-wise, because I just knew the most people in Durham,” Anna says. “When I was living farther away, I always saw Durham pop up on lists of like, ‘the 10 best food towns that you didn’t know about,’ [and I knew] that there were a lot of thriving food businesses here and a lot of creativity.”
She moved back to the Bull City in 2021 and started Moonbelly Meat Co. in February 2022. She rents a commissary space at Redstart Foods on North Roxboro Street, where she has a pick-up window for online orders Monday and Tuesday from 2-6 p.m. You can also find her at the Eno River Farmers Market in Hillsborough and, starting in April, at the Durham Farmers Market downtown.
One of Anna’s main goals is to make the butcher shop experience more approachable and inclusive rather than intimidating. With her, “you don’t have to feel shy about asking ‘dumb questions.'” Even her logo is a part of that mission. “Oftentimes, [butcher logos contain] a big cleaver, and it’s black and white, and just seems really aggro,” she says. “I wanted to go in the opposite direction and use bright colors and a funky font. So if you saw it, you would say, ‘Oh, that’s something that looks fun – I’m curious to know more about what’s going on here.”
Of course, once you get folks interested, you need the product to back it up. Anna primarily works with Firsthand Foods to help her obtain local, pasture-raised meats. “I try my best to utilize whole animal butchery by using bones to make broth or soup and skin to make dog treats and pork rinds,” Anna says. “My main offering is uniquely flavored sausages, all stuffed and twisted by hand. Some of my most popular [sausage] flavors are Korean barbecue, cheesy pizza and pho soup.” She also produces bacon, smoked hams and marinated pork chops.
Anna knows she’s got the chops and the goods – now she’s focused on growing her customer base. “Since I am a new business, just trying to get the word out that I even exist … has been a big challenge,” she says. But if that little girl who dragged a deer into the back of a trailer has anything to say about it, we doubt Moonbelly will stay a secret for much longer.