So damn Greek, it hurts
Our dad didn't move to America until he was in his late twenties. He grew up in a tiny Greek village in the mountains where there was no choice but to do everything yourself. And so he was a natural entrepreneur: a farmer, beekeeper, distiller and butcher. He brought his ethos with him, and we grew up on three quarters of an acre outside of Salt Lake City. On Sunday afternoons, while our Mormon neighbors began their workweek, our lawn was awash with drunken Greeks dancing around a lamb on a spit. When not in the backyard we were at one of my parent's two restaurants: Queen One and Queen Two. They were typical Greek diners with specials like gyros, fresh spanakopita, and pastitisio (Greek lasagna). My parents once were called to the principal's office at school because we stunk of garlic so badly that the other kid's parents complained... so. damn. Greek.
The Old is New Again
After growing up around farming, food preservation and hospitality, I decided to move to Switzerland, to stage at Wildhaus under master chef Annegret Schlumpf. It completely altered my experience with food, in particular the art of charcuterie and meat making. When I was preparing ot leave Switzerland, the Swiss put the fear of god into me about going back to the U.S. ("I hope you enjoy this appenzeller becasue you're never going to eat handmade cheese again! Or drink good beer! Or eat good sausage!") My sister, Michelle, told me to come to Portland, vowing their prophecies wouldn't become reality. After picking me up from the airport, she could sense my apprehension. We immediately went to the Farmer's Market at Portland State University. There I saw mâche, Oregon truffles, cherries from the Gorge and smoked fish from the Nez Perce reservation. I told my sister about my wild dream of making meat in the Old World traditions I'd learned abroad. And Michelle understood the vision because, well, it was in our blood.
All in the family
At present, my whole family works at Olympia Provisions. If you came to our headquarters in SE Industrial Portland, you'd see my wife Jess operating our restaurants, my niece Alexis running our sales team and my sister, running the entire business (and running after me about our margins). Adjacent to our offices is our 38,000 square foot meat plant, where the entire gang is pulling thousands of pounds of meat from smokehouse to curing rooms, raw coolers to wrapping rooms. We do it all by hand and quality control everything from the moment animals arrive to the time salami ships out the door. We have a fabrication shop here, too, where we weld steel to build new meat racks, navigate repairs or build special items needed for our restaurants.
A New Vision
Now, after building this charcuterie business these last thirteen plus years, we're focused on a new mission: revolutionize our industry through a new sourcing model, focused on regenerative agriculture and building healthy communities. Listen, the industry is terrible, and I'll be the first to admit it - especially after having worked in it for so long. I knew I wanted to source pastured pork while supporting small farmers, but I didn't know how to build it to be financially sustainable. That's where Michelle excels - and with her help we created a business model that benefits all parties. Doing it all while curbing climate change and eating more delicious salami - it's a win-win situation for everyone!
The pursuit of a beautiful thing
Making charcuterie is not cooking: you're producing something, repeating the same motion in the same way with the same ingredients in hopes of perfectly rendering the same product over and over and over. Thousands per day. I have to ensure that millions of pounds are perfectly identical and that we utilize the entire animal (thus the launch of our Dog Treats). Over the course of the year we make one, maybe two new products. And they have to be amazing. What keeps me going in the day-to-day is the fact that I am always getting better, finding small efficiencies that make the process easier and the product better. I'm not a master, and I never will be. It's the pursuit of it that I love: making a glorious thing with base elements of pork, fine sea salt and technique. I hope you enjoy these products as much as I enjoy the opportunity to continually improve upon them.