Feb. 19, 2013
by Kimberlie Clyma
Porcine and thyme, Thai peanut, lamb and feta, goat chorizo with roasted garlic – not your typical sausage samplings found at an area grocery store or even in a specialty meat market. However, customers of the Local Pig Charcuterie in Kansas City can choose from these fresh- sausage selections and so much more at this Old World- style, artisanal meat-cutting and sausage shop.
“There’s been a market in Kansas City for homemade sausage, but not really any place for customers to get it,” says Alex Pope, the former chef-turned entrepreneur who opened Local Pig one year ago. “All of the sausage we make is from original recipes. We are making things that are far from the industry standard.”
Pope, a 29-year-old from Eau Claire, Wis., was trained at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and worked as a chef at both the American Restaurant and R Bar in Kansas City. His culinary experience, combined with the culinary background of most of his employees, has helped turn Local Pig into more than a simple butcher shop.
“We all know food and can pass on our knowledge to our customers,” he says.
All the sausage is made in-house, literally by hand. There is no automation at this shop aside from an electric mixer. The grinder is an old-fashioned hand-cranked meat grinder. The sausage stuffer is also manual. However, lack of automation doesn’t slow down the sausage preparation process. “It doesn’t take us long at all to stuff a 10-lb. batch of sausage,” says Ben Wood, one of Local Pig’s 10 full-time employees.
The shop makes about 600 lbs. of sausage a week, typically 12 to 14 different homemade recipes of 7 ½-inch artisan-style sausage links including burnt end BBQ, beer bratwurst with cheddar, bacon and Swiss sausage with grilled scallions, fresh fennel and mozzarella Italian sausage and roasted garlic and rosemary. But customers shouldn’t get too attached to any particular variety because next week there will probably be something new in the case.
“We are always coming up with new recipes – we don’t usually make the same thing week after week,” Pope says. “If a customer asks for something they’ve had before, we might make it again or just suggest something else they might enjoy.”
When Chris Seferyn developed the plan to open a new gastropub and biergarten in Kansas City’s Martini Corner – a restaurant called “Haus” that would sell sausage, beer and fries – he knew he needed to partner with someone who was serious about sausage. Local Pig’s Pope was the perfect partner.
“As we were getting ready to open our doors and the plans for Haus were being finalized, we knew it would be mutually beneficial,” Pope explains. Seferyn got a menu of original-recipe sausages designed specifically for his restaurant, and Pope got a foodservice customer for his product before the shop’s doors even opened.
During the planning process, Pope developed 35 to 40 different original sausage recipes for Haus that were eventually whittled down to the 10 that are now offered at the establishment. Local Pig makes all of the restaurant’s sausage – the butcher shop is even recognized on the restaurant’s menu.
The sausage selections at Haus include: duck and ginger, smoked chicken and apple, chicken jalapeño and pineapple, pork Thai chile kaffir lime, pork tequila serrano, and lamb cumin and oregano. Local Pig even makes the restaurant some vegetarian varieties, including roasted eggplant and feta. The sausages are served on pretzel buns – from another local Kansas City company, Farm to Market Bread Co. – with toppings including sauerkraut, sweet peppers, caramelized onions, jalapeños and other hot peppers, along with four kinds of mustards.
Local Pig also makes sausage for three other Kansas City restaurants – Gram & Dun, Port Fonda and Tannin wine bar. In addition they sell hamburgers to an area restaurant specializing in local food called Westside Local.
The locavore movement in the United States, spawned by the consumer’s growing interest in sustainability, can still be considered a fairly new trend, especially in the Midwest. “Local” food is often defined as food grown within 100 miles of where it’s purchased or consumed. There’s even an app for iPhones and Android devices that will help users locate “local” in-season foods at markets and restaurants in their area.
The Local Pig, as the name implies, caters to today’s locavore – it’s all about locally sourced products. “I wanted to find a way to get off of the confinement farming system of animal agriculture,” Pope says. “To do that required whole-animal butchery and sourcing from local farmers that I could talk to and visit.”
Pope and his team frequent farms in neighboring states to source the beef, pork, poultry, lamb and goat they sell at the butcher shop.
Are Kansas City customers really demanding “local” foods? “My sense is that it’s important to about half of our customers, the other half just know that we have better-tasting products,” Pope says. “We educate all our customers as to why our stuff tastes so good.” Pope truly believes locally sourcing is how he can guarantee higher-quality product.
The shop only buys a few animals at a time from the area farmers – usually seven or eight hogs and one cow each week, and one to two lamb and goat every other week. Pope explains that all the animals are raised “with care” on the small farms. “We think sourcing animals from smaller operations allows us to get healthier animals – we don’t find blood clots in our meat or bruising,” he explains. “Raising animals with care results in higher-quality, better-tasting meat.
“We differentiate ourselves with everything being local,” he says. “We also can guarantee our meat is antibiotic-free, hormone-free, steroid-free.”
Customers can easily learn where the pork chops they’re taking home for dinner originated thanks to chalk signs on the walls. The signs openly list animal, breed, farm and location. And a pushpin riddled map on another wall shows the locations of all the farms supplying the specialty shop.
A shelf at the front of the store is lined with containers of local spices, seasonings and infused honey, as well as home-grown herbs along the windowsill. Behind the store is a small garden plot where vegetables destined for sausage and prepared food recipes are grown.
In addition to chops, steaks, chicken breasts and legs and tons of homemade sausage, the meat case also features pork cheeks, head cheese, pate, various organs and bones cut up to sell to dog owners. The owners have even found a use for the large amounts of leftover beef fat they’ve been stuck with. In early February, they will introduce a homemade, old-fashioned shaving cream line called Cream – the product is made from lye, coconut oil, fragrance and yes, beef fat.
“Our goal is to use everything we get – all of the animal, from head to toe,” Pope says.
Using every part of the animal was the impetus behind this new business venture for Pope and his two business partners, Matthew Kafka and Miles Massen. On the restaurant side, it’s not practical to purchase whole animals and then try to sell every part in the restaurant, he explains. At a butcher shop, it can be done.
At times this requires some creativity – such as making shaving cream from beef fat or encouraging customers to try gourmet head cheese or other delicacies they might normally avoid, such as pig cheeks.
Some of these under-sold meat cuts or gourmet extras are passed on to customers in the store’s Butcher Boxes. Customers can sign up for a weekly or bi-weekly 7- or 10-lb. butcher box of various cuts of meat that are packaged and picked up at the store on a designated day. Each box promises a beef, pork and poultry selection, in addition to some sausage, a precooked item, such as a homemade pot pie, and oftentimes extras like pate or head cheese that customers might not purchase on their own.
“The Butcher Boxes have been popular right from the start,” Pope says. “They let us move product that might not be selling and also to introduce customers to new things.”
Being open with customers is one of the key missions of Local Pig. From a physical standpoint, the 1,600-sq.-ft. shop is open – there’s not a lot of space that’s out of sight, aside from the meat cooler. Standing in the doorway, customers can literally see the entire operation – meat being cut on the butcher tables behind the counter, beef and pork being ground at the grinding station and sausage being stuffed into links. There is no place to hide what goes on behind the scenes at this butcher shop.
“We’re very transparent,” Pope says. “We want our customers to know where the meat is coming from and how we’re preparing it – there’s nothing to hide.”
Even the store’s butchering technique is open for customer review. From the time the store opened its doors last February, Pope has offered butchering classes to patrons interested in hands-on training. For $100, customers can pick up a saw and knife and learn first-hand how to break down a hog. It takes about two hours and in the end, customers take home around 10 lbs. of various cuts of pork that they have cut themselves. “It’s a great way to really teach people where their meat comes from,” Pope says.
There is also a sausage-making class which allows customers, for $65, to grind, blend and stuff their own sausage, and take home 3 lbs. of freshly made product.
One year later, thanks to word of mouth and satisfied customers, Local Pig has become a sought-out destination for customers looking for high-quality, locally sourced meats. As they approach the start of year two, the butcher shop and charcuterie is looking ahead to see what’s next.
Pope has leased space at a US Dept. of Agriculture plant so he can increase his wholesale business and sell cuts directly to local restaurants. The shop has garnered the attention of the Kansas City media recently and this past month, Pope’s business was featured in The New York Times.
In addition, a food truck is set to open in March. “Since we opened we’ve had people stop in to ask if we sell cooked foods,” Pope says. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet the demand and also use some of our under-sold meats.”
The truck will remain parked behind the store next to a group of picnic tables to service passers-by and destination visitors looking for a hot sandwich, burger or sausage.
Whether it’s the hands-on butcher classes, selections of sausage, high-quality beef or pork cuts or maybe even the new food truck, customers who come to Local Pig have a purpose for their visit. The store, nestled in an area referred to as the East Bottoms, is less than five minutes from downtown Kansas City, but in an industrial neighborhood where their neighbors are mostly warehouse facilities and scrap yards. It’s not a location that customers would just stumble upon, Pope says.
“People have to want to come here,” he says. “We wanted to do something different, really create a destination spot in Kansas City.” Mission accomplished.