The Pork Chop Shop’s Butcher Babes Bring Home the Bacon
It’s tough having good chops and the “Butcher Babes” have got the best to offer at the West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio.
Emma Beno, 24, and Alexia Rodriguez, 32, owners of the Pork Chop Shop (1979 West 25th Street, Stand E4; 216-394-0382; ThePorkChopShopWSM.com) at the market infuse the flavor of the neighborhood and their own tastes into their pork in the Ohio City neighborhood.
The women dress up their bacon, pork chops, sausages and more using a variety of flavors from ale to spice and everything in between, they say.
Emma creates unique bacon and sausage using ale from breweries right around the corner in what is becoming known as the “Brewery District,” to create her Christmas Ale Bacon, along with adding a hint of heat to their links with Cajun spices and jalapeño peppers for the Jalapeño Cheddar sausages.
“I make different kinds of sausages and I try to use the local IPA types of beers like the Great Lakes, the Nano Bier, and the bars that are around us,” says Emma, who attempts to make pork a little more interesting with flavors since “there are only so many ways you can really cook a pork chop.”
Alexia creates the unique rubs and writes recipes that they post on the shop’s website as a part of her public service to the community.
“I love the fact that I still stand for what I think what food is really about, which is brining nutritional values to families and serving families and people,” says Alexia, who has no interest in competing with Cleveland’s growing celebrity chief scene. “For me, it’s always been about a service, a public service providing for people.”
She simply loves cooking, especially breakfast, and doing her own thing experimenting and infusing different flavors together, Alexia says.
I was touring around the market soon after it opened when I spied the signature yellow equality sign encased with blue in The Pork Chop Shop’s sign. The little political symbol popularized by the Human Rights Campaign, caught my attention and my stomach grumbled.
The shop had just opened for the day when I walked up to it and a gentleman walked out from behind the counter offering up a sample from his tray of sausages. I picked up the toothpick with the sausage at the end and popped it in my mouth.
I instantly thought, my girlfriend, Super G, and roommate, Melanie, who love sausages would die for this as the juicy meat melted and filled my mouth with delicious flavors. I reached for another taste (they are instantly addictive) as I began scanning the case for something that I could easily pack in my suitcase to bring home to them for their culinary artillery and for my personal sampling.
I asked if the owners were around and Emma came out from in back of the stand, with a clever in hand (she was busy chopping up the pork) preparing to craft her delights for sale.
She was young and charming, with her Sinead O’Connor-like shaved head, and two piercings in her lower lip, that made me feel right at home. We began chatting about the different types of bacon, pork chops, sausages and rubs until we found the perfect items for me to take home.
Equality at the Market
This year, Emma, a native Clevelander celebrates her 10 year anniversary working at the market. She started working at one of the stands when she was 14 years old. Seven years later, Alexia and Emma seized upon the opportunity to own their own stand.
The two met at the market in 2009 when Alexia was the executive chef at Johnny Mango World Café and Bar. When they decided to take the leap to open their own stand, Alexia was the executive chef at Bon Bon Pastry and Café right around the corner.
Emma’s father loaned the couple $15,000 and they ran with it opening the stand and making history in the historic market by proudly displaying the equality symbol in their stand’s sign.
It initially caused a stir in the market as the first-ever openly LGBT-owned shop. There are four other LGBT-owned stands at the market, but they aren’t “out,” says Emma.
“It’s been difficult. There are a lot of people who aren’t really comfortable with it and there are some people who totally support it all the way,” says Alexia, who experienced a difficult time being out at the market in spite of its history being built by immigrants and being a cultural landmark.
Emma agrees, “When we first put it up some of the other vendors complained, but they kind of dropped it.”
Alexia believes Emma’s history and pretty much growing up at the market helped ease some of the tensions between them and the other estimated 160 stand owners in the historic cultural melting pot.
Alexia has taken an interest in the historical significance of the market since moving to the market full-time to run the business with Emma, she says.
“I’m learning more about the history of the market and it’s just incredible how people have survived and provided for their families and other families,” says Alexia. “I like the landmark that it has become.”
“I really love the Market. I love what it represents, I love what it stands for, I love what it does how and how it provides for the community [and] how it is a hub for a lot of things in Cleveland,” Alexia adds.
The two women love the unique atmosphere of the market and being in charge of their own destiny. There is never a dull moment. It’s fast paced and it can be rough at times, but Alexia says she thrives under the pressure.
“It’s just an environment where you have to have thick skin and lots of wit and a sense of humor,” adds Emma.
The “Butcher Babes” are also becoming a “landmark” as a destination stand at the market. Time has proven that raising the equality symbol has been beneficial to them as people seek them out to support a lesbian-owned business and for their unique pork chops and ribs and flavored bacon and sausages, the women say.
“It’s actually drawn more people from the community in from different places even all the way from Canada,” says Alexia.
I happened to be one of those visitors, who spied the equality symbol in the sign and made a beeline for the Pork Chop Shop because of it, but when you chat with Alexia and Emma it becomes clear the market and the shop are their love for each other and their city.
“I love Cleveland because it’s my home,” says Emma, who lived in London for six months and like Alexia wants to travel the United States, especially to check out San Francisco and Seattle.
Alexia was born and raised in Ohio, but moved around spending some time in Southern California, before returning to Ohio and settling in Cleveland. She appreciates the city’s history, what has to offer and the direction it’s going in, she says.
“I love that it’s rebuilding itself,” says Alexia, who moved to Cleveland in 2007 and is excited to be a part of its revitalization. “I like a lot of the history that it has. It’s been a lot of different things. It was industrial and then it was a really fast-paced kind of city and then just died somewhere and now it’s rebuilding itself.”
In many ways, Alexia discovered herself in Cleveland. The chef started cooking when she was 13-years old at a diner and worked her way up in the hotel and restaurant industry, but it wasn’t until 12 years later when she came to Cleveland that she realized cooking was more than just a job.
“I really realized that I was really good at this, whether it was a born talent or not I just don’t know because it’s just been something that I’ve done for so long,” says Alexia. “I never thought it would take me as far as it has.”
When the girls aren’t at the market, Emma is out playing soccer on the market’s soccer team or adding to her growing body art, she has four tattoos and is working on a sleeve, she says.
Alexia indulges another creative side of herself by hosting a literature and poetry night twice a month at Lifetime’s Project Runway alumna Valerie Mayen’s Yellowcake Shop (6500 Detroit Avenue; 216-236-4073; YellowcakeShop.com) in Gordon Square Arts District, where she reads from any one of her three books of poetry, she says.
She’s also often off exploring Cleveland’s local art galleries, writing and searching for new story ideas, she says.
Alexia and Emma can often be found dinning around town checking out the different menus at Cleveland’s latest restaurants.
“Cleveland has become very food oriented in the last few years and there are a lot of things on the menus that I haven’t heard of before,” says Emma, already mapping out her next Cleveland dining destination.
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