Our Story
How it got started

ONE EVENING IN 2006, three friends who lived in New Zealand got together to ponder a question. New Zealand had some of the world’s best grazing pastures. It also had some of the world’s best cattle. And yet, like everywhere, it was almost impossible to get a truly great steak. The problem was people. There was a near conspiracy of meat packers, middlemen and volume resellers who had spent decades cutting corners and taking short cuts in the name of margin. Farmers were poorly paid. The only incentive was to produce cheap steak, but not good steak.

Those three friends—Jason Ross, Gerard Hickey and Greg Evans—set out to do something very simple: Raise the best cattle on the best land. Period. They enlisted some of the country’s best farmers, who had the best grazing land—which, for a country famous for green pastures, is saying something. On this land they put wagyu cattle—the Japanese breed best known as “Kobe beef,” which produces extraordinarily marbled, succulent beef. They called their company First Light, because dawn breaks first on the rich, deeply mineralized soils of New Zealand before rolling west across the rest of the globe

It was exciting, but it was also risky. Achieving wagyu’s incredible potential for marbling requires the right feed. The Japanese fatten their wagyu on a blend of barley and rice straw, which creates its famous lacework of fat, but the flavor is mild and can be too rich. In the US, so called “American wagyu” often comes from massive feedlots. No one had ever tried fattening these cattle on grass. No one knew if it was even possible.

Eighteen months after the wagyu were put on pasture, the first steaks had been cut and the three partners got together and grilled some ribeyes. “It was one of those Eureka moments,” Jason says, “like when the first person melted cold butter on hot bread. Suddenly we had the best of both worlds. Sweet, nutty, juicy beef with true depth of beefy flavor.”

In other words, the experiment worked. But not perfectly. Getting wagyu to marble on New Zealand grass took a painfully long time. The problem wasn’t the grass—it was the cattle. After decades of being bred to fatten on grain, it was as though these cattle had forgotten how to graze. First Light began refining their genetics, by crossing their best wagyu bulls with cattle that were true grazing experts: local Angus cattle and New Zealand’s legendary dairy cattle. The marbling got even better.

Within a year, First Light grass-fed wagyu was available in more than twenty countries. “Our beef resonates most with customers who care,” Jason says. “They care about the animal, the environmental impact of raising that animal, and their own health. But most of all they care about flavor.”

Word is still getting out. In 2018, First Light took gold at New Zealand’s Steak of Origin Contest. A month later, another gold medal at the World Steak Awards, which are held in London.

Jerry’s Discovery

JERRY GREENBERG FIRST TASTED grass-fed wagyu in 2010. He was in Hawaii, scouting for fish to serve at SUGARFISH, the restaurant he co-founded with the legendary sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa and the rest of the Sushi Nozawa team in 2008. Jerry is renowned for his high standards when it comes to fish, but his relationship with steak is equally intense. It began in 2000 when he was traveling in the South of France and ate a steak at a restaurant called La Chaumiere. “The steak was perfectly executed,” Jerry remembers. “A dark sear, red throughout, but with a warm center, and the perfect level of salt.”

In 2009, Jerry discovered the flavor of grass-fed beef. “It had an incredibly beefy flavor,” he says. “And unlike grain-fed steak, you felt good after you ate it.” With Lowell Sharron,  a founding partner of Uovo and HiHo, he began experimenting and refining cooking techniques.

A year later, he discovered grass-fed wagyu, which came from a small ranch. It was “the best beef yet.” Around that time, he read an article in the Wall Street Journal about steak which said, “ if you should find grass-fed wagyu, buy it.”

By 2015, Jerry was in the midst of developing a new burger restaurant, which would become HiHo. He and his team were searching for a beef supplier when they tried First Light wagyu. “It was hands down the winner,” Jerry says. “It beat out more than twenty other contenders.” Not long after, Jason Ross sent Jerry a whole tenderloin and, once again, Jerry’s steak bar was a notch higher. “It had this unbelievable texture,” he recalls. “And the flavor was just amazing—rich and clean at the same time.”

Jerry sent Jason Ross the article he’d cut out of the Wall Street Journal a few years earlier. It was by a Canadian journalist named Mark Schatzker. Jason wrote back, “I know Mark.”

Fast-forward to today and Jerry is now a co-owner alongside Jason, Gerard and Greg and the the Steak Club has come to fruition!

Mark’s Steak Journey

MARK SCHATZKER’s STEAK JOURNEY began in 1997 when a whole tenderloin from Argentina, grilled on a beach in Chile, changed the course of his life. Mark asked what he thought was a simple question: Why was that steak so good? Answering it took more than a decade and resulted in his first book, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef.

Over the course of his quest—which took him to six countries, where he ate hundreds of pounds of beef—Mark traveled to Matsusaka, Japan, and experienced the tender, mouth-filling richness of the country’s wagyu. But when it came to flavor, he knew that nothing beat the taste of one-hundred percent grass-fed. He was struck with a thought: what if someone raised wagyu cattle on grass? When he finally managed to track down his first grass-fed wagyu rib eye, he was—like those three friends in New Zealand, and like Jerry Greenberg—blown away. In his book, he described it as, “like steak with headphones on.”

After his book was published, Mark began using First Light wagyu during steak tastings. “It was like pulling out a trump card,” he says. “It would win every time.” Some questioned whether a steak that marbled could truly be grass-fed. So Mark had a lipid scientist at the University of Toronto analyze several samples. “It was the best ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s that scientists had ever seen in beef.”

In the summer of 2017, Jason invited Mark to Los Angeles to meet his friends Jerry and Lowell. Jerry was so taken by First Light’s beef he had recently become an owner of the company. The four men convened in Jerry’s kitchen to eat steak and talk about steak and eat more steak. Over filets and rib eyes, they decided to join forces to create the First Light Steak Club and spread the gospel of First Light grass-fed wagyu.

The First Light Steak Club represents the fulfillment of First Light’s founding mission, which is to disrupt the supply chain that treats beef as a mere commodity—a system that is not only bad for farmers, but bad for consumers, bad for the environment, and so often leads to the mistreatment of farm animals. The goal of the steak club would be to forge a connection between New Zealand’s best farmers and the world’s most passionate steak lovers. No middle men to cut corners and crank up costs.

That steak, furthermore, would be cooked according to Jerry & Lowell’s Master Steak Recipe, which has been in development for the past 15 years. Jerry & Lowell agreed that club members could—and should—have access to it. “The only thing worse than a bad steak,” Jerry says, “is a great steak that’s been cooked badly.”