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The daily grind: 150 pounds

Al Harris December 7, 2010 10

Pork, spices and elbow grease.

That’s the recipe for success for two pals who just launched Sausage Craft, which makes –  you guessed it –  fresh sausages by hand.

Owners Chris Mattera, 29, and Brad Hemp, 30, met while working at the Belmont Butchery. Idle talk of launching their own wholesale sausage business eventually transformed into a serious idea, and now they sell to restaurants and retailers across town.

With their first full week in business behind them, Hemp says they are off to a good start.

“We’ve got four solid accounts with more in the pipeline,” Hemp said.

That includes grocer Ellwood Thompson’s, which will soon start carrying six varieties of sausages. The products are also on the menu at a couple of local restaurants, including Avenue 805 and Cafe Rustica.

Hemp said the company is on track to meet or beat its first-month goal of selling 400 pounds of sausage, which sells at wholesale for between $7 and $10 a pound.

Sausage Craft is hoping to fill a niche in the market between cheap varieties of sausage sold by the big food service companies and expensive imports, Hemp said.

They are also tapping into the growing local food movement, which has led to the rise of several farmers’ markets in the area. Hemp said they have a hot dog cart that they plan to take to such markets to sell cooked sausage to promote the brand.

Right now the company has about 14 varieties, including English Bangers and Iberian Chorizo. They also plan to add bacon and hot dogs later on.

While Hemp handles the business side of things, Mattera spends a great deal of his time inside of the frigid walk-in refrigerator, trimming, grinding, seasoning and stuffing sausages.

Production at their rented facility on Dabney Road has been underway for a couple of weeks now, with Mattera capable of producing up to 150 pounds of sausage a day. The sausage is made from all-natural pork. Some varieties incorporate lamb, veal and beef. In fact, Mattera has been wrist-deep in ground pork since he was a young boy.

“My family came here from New Jersey, and I couldn’t find any of the sausages I used to eat. So when I was 12 or 13, I started making my own by hand,” Mattera said.

After graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in sociology, Mattera didn’t like his job prospects. He went back to school, this time to Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary institute in Paris. He also spent time in Tuscany studying under a third-generation butcher.

With Mattera’s culinary skill backing them up, the duo figured that, with a business plan in hand, getting a start-up loan would be a slam dunk.

“We thought we’d go to the bank and bring some cooked sausages. We quickly found out [that] without two years of records it wasn’t going to happen,” Mattera said.

Instead they turned to New Vision, New Ventures, a local small business advocacy organization, and applied for an SBA Community Express Loan. Although they didn’t get the $35,000 they wanted, they did get a $5,000 loan, which was enough to get the ball rolling.

“What it helped us do was put together investors. People don’t want to be the first on board,” Mattera said.

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10 Comments »

  1. MortgageMark December 7, 2010 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Congratulations!

    I would think your product line would lend itself very well to Comfort Restaurant…..Jason Alley would surely be someone you should speak with if you haven’t already.

    Good luck.

  2. Dave December 7, 2010 at 9:42 am - Reply

    I’d also think a place like Stronghill would be a good fit. Their chef spent time in New Orleans and would probably appreciate some good sausage with their crawfish.

  3. Bruce Anderson December 7, 2010 at 11:42 am - Reply

    What a great story. Good luck to this venture; we can’t wait to try the sausage.

  4. Ron Fischer December 7, 2010 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Guys, many congrats! Have been excited for your launch. As a fellow Jersey boy, weened on German sausage there and a lover of Italian salumi and also chorizo, you guys are a very welcome to the Richmond food scene. Will you be selling directly to the consumer at any point?

  5. Tim Edwards December 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    Jimmy Dean did it, so can You!

  6. Sausage Craft December 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks for all of the great comments, we’re really glad to be in a community that gets excited about local businesses, even if they just sell sausage. We’re definitely visiting many local restaurants, Stronghill and Comfort are among them. You can check who is carrying us currently on our website, under the ‘Clients’ heading. We’re also working out details with local retailers, so you should be able to buy sausage to cook at home in a very short time. Thanks again, we hope to keep surprising the locals with our delicious products!

  7. mightycaseymedia December 8, 2010 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Porky goodness! Local business growth! Everybody wins!

    I’m really pleased to hear that Tanya Cauthen’s terrific Belmont Butchery has spun off a craft sausage business. Virginia has some of the best small-farm pork producers in the US, and once a consumer with a discerning palate tastes a hand-crafted sausage made from small-farm pork…they’ll never be happy with anything else.

    Kudos, boys – only one question: where can I get these porkalicious delights? Belmont Butchery?

  8. Mary Lee Schultz December 8, 2010 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    I am looking forward to finding your sausages in local stores.

  9. Sausage Craft December 8, 2010 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Once again, thanks for the great support and the interest. Just to clarify, we are not affiliated with Belmont Butchery, and are a completely independent business. We definitely want to introduce some product lines made wholly from VA pork, which we would agree is as good as just about any out there. Keep an eye on our website to find where are sausages are sold.

  10. Parkwood December 21, 2010 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    Uh oh… looks like they’re being sued by their former boss, Tanya Cauthen, at Belmont Butchery. See today’s docket.

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