They're young, they're fe-male and they deal exclusively with pork. There are a lot of qualities that separate Emma Beno and Alexia Rodriguez, owners of the West Side Market's Pork Chop Shop, from the competition. But they also stand out because of what matters most: Their products are really tasty. All of the pork sold from their stand is Ohio-raised and steroid, hormone and preservative free. They sell everything from traditional cuts and chops to a bevy of creatively flavored sausage, bacon and rubs. There's something for everyone and it's all delicious.
The pair has a long history with the West Side Market. Beno spent years working for various stands, including a cheese shop, bakery and butcher. Rodriguez, a former restaurant chef in Ohio City, used to shop the Market for menu ingredients. It's how the two met. Then, in 2012, an opportunity presented itself when a Market meat stall closed down. The two acquired the booth and turned it into their own stand, the Pork Chop Shop. At 24 years of age, Beno currently is the youngest stand owner in the Market.
Of course, it's true that butchery traditionally is a male profession. In recent years however, an increasing number of women have been joining the trade. Rodriguez, 32, says it's a trend she's watched grow during her years in the industry. "The whole food culture has become more attractive to women," she says. "Women are executive chefs, sous chefs, butchers... They're not limited to being servers, anymore. Other women see that acceptance — that they can do it too."
The shop receives fresh meat deliveries every day that the Market is open. The women do all of the breakdown manually, in the Market's underbelly. It's also where they prepare sausages and bacon, before the products hit the stand's retail shelves.
Flavored bacons are among the best sellers in the winter, including garlic, peppered, Cajun and a seasonal Great Lake's Christmas Ale variety. In the summer months, flavored sausages take over, including apple-provolone and spicy chorizo. "If people ask for it, we'll try to make it," says Rodriguez, although Beno admits they've had several experiments that didn't work quite as they hoped. "Everyone was asking for English bangers," says Beno. "We tried, but they were just really bland."
The Pork Chop Shop supplies several area restaurants, including Borderline Café in Lakewood, Stamper's Grill Pub in Fairview Park and Market Garden Brewery, Nano Brew and Touch Supper Club in Ohio City.
Between the Market and the restaurant accounts, Beno and Rodriguez say they have their hands full. The women plan to stick with the West Side Market and grow their business there. They say they'd like to increase the number of local restaurants that they supply. They also have plans to introduce some new items for retail. "We just got approval from the city this week," says Rodriguez, "so we will be expanding to charcuterie soon."
Beno says they wouldn't really want to go anywhere else, or open their own store. "The best part of our job is the people at the Market," she says. "Even if they're not shopping with us that day, customers stop by to say hello or ask for cooking tips. We've met so many people through our stand, both in and out of the industry. I just love being at the Market, period. It's always one big ball of energy."