Local grocer goes whole hog

February 18, 2011
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Gazette photo by Rebeca Oliveira
Neighborhood bodega Plaza Meat Market is offering local pork, freshly butchered on-site every other Friday. They are due to take delivery of a hog today, Feb. 18.

BROOKSIDE—Amidst a hubbub of local food politics, a neighborhood bodega is cutting back to its butchering roots: Plaza Meat Market, located at 207 Boylston St., is now offering local pork, butchered on the premises, fresh every other Friday.

Owner Harry Perez teamed up with local food activist Jamey Lionette and Adams Farm, located in Athol, to take delivery of a whole hog every two weeks and sell every cut—from ribs and tender loins to belly, skin and trotters (feet), Perez told the Gazette in a phone interview.

“The only thing they don’t bring is tripe [intestines]. Except that, they bring everything,” Perez said.

Lionette, former owner of Lionette’s Market in the South End, which specialized in local and sustainable food, told the Gazette in an e-mail that by buying a whole hog, “The Plaza is able to lower their costs and sell different cuts at price points affordable to all the various residents around them.”

This is, in part, an anti-gentrification strategy, he said: “This way, a neighbor with a low income can afford local pork, and some of the wealthier neighbors can buy the more expensive cuts…Gentrification is a serious concern in JP and we did not want to change Harry’s shop. Our approach is to satisfy his current clientele, while bringing in some new customers.”

After taking delivery of its first hog on Friday Feb. 4, the Plaza was selling cuts before they were even on display—customers were calling dibs on the bones, belly and liver.

“All those sales were done in Spanish to Harry’s regular customers,” Lionette said. “Bodega and small market owners want to sell real food instead of chips and soda. They just need us to stop shopping at box supermarkets and instead support our neighbors.”

By Monday morning, there were few cuts left, aside from the pork skin. Perez was in negotiations over the skin with a restaurant on Washington Street that wanted to use it to make chicharrones.

“That is a model of sustainability,” Lionette said. “I think we all hope this becomes a model for other neighborhoods.”

Perez and Lionette aren’t resting on their laurels. The Plaza is also selling local eggs, milk and butter and Perez and Lionette are already working on sourcing local goat, beef, poultry and produce.

City Growers Farm, based in Dorchester, is expected to sell Perez produce this spring, and as Perez grows his local product line, he will seek other farms for produce, Lionette said.

“[Prices are] a little bit higher, but people like it more,” Perez said. “We’ll try to keep [selling] it.”

“Maybe, and I do mean maybe, food at Plaza, or other bodegas is a few cents more expensive than at Hi-Lo or Stop & Shop, but that extra money is staying in our neighborhoods, and creating jobs,” Lionette said. “Especially with Hi-Lo soon being replaced by Whole Foods, now is the time to really organize to get local food into local businesses. The idea is, if we can get the pork and dairy moving, this shop will start getting more local food.”

City officials have also suggested that local bodegas expand their product lines to fill the gap created by Hi-Lo’s sale to Whole Foods.

Lionette was inspired to work with Perez because of his “desire to have access to local, and thus sustainable, food…There are ‘food deserts’ all over the city, where there is little to no access to food, let alone healthy food.”

When he heard that Perez was “very open to new ideas,” Lionette set up a meeting with him and found out Perez was interested in restoring the Plaza to a full butcher shop, which it was, some 30 years ago, Lionette said.

“Betsy [Cowan] from Egleston Main Street translated the names of each cut into English, and I helped Harry source the local product and helped him butcher it,” Lionette said. Neighbors and friends helped with promotion and signage at the shop.

“This is an example of the community taking matters into their own hands. Neighbors and neighborhood organizations like Main Streets Boston working with local businesses to bring in the food we eat, at prices we can afford,” Lionette said.

“Boylston Street has received plenty of negative attention in the past year. It is our aim to bring some positive attention to the street, bring more customers to the businesses and make Boylston Street a great corridor to Egleston Square,” Lionette said.

The Plaza, located on the border of the Brookside and Egleston Square neighborhoods, is just down the street from where Luis “Tito” Torres, 23, was shot on Oct. 23. Torres died of his injuries the following day.

Plaza Meat Market accepts cash only, is open daily from 7AM to 10 PM and can be reached at 524-6445.

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