The little Berkeley neighborhood deli with the strange name has grown into a thriving business. Il Porcellino Salumi, founded by Bill Miner in 2015, is celebrating its five-year anniversary after big changes that have helped the company grow during a difficult 2020.
If you've been to the compact Il Porcellino at 4324 West 41st Street (just around the corner from busy Tennyson Street), you may have already noticed that the tables (of which there were only four to begin with) are gone. "About 90 percent of our business was to-go even before March," Miner explains, so the temporary closure of dining rooms from March to May didn't affect business too much.
Once restaurants were allowed to reopen for in-house customers, the owner didn't see the need to put the tables back in, and instead utilized the space to expand his butcher-counter and grocery offerings while continuing to sell Il Porcellino's regular menu of sandwiches, salads and soups to go. While the shop originally sold only house-cured meats and sausages from the deli cases, plus a few specialty pantry items, the range has increased greatly. "We're selling lots of fresh meat, lots of charcuterie, pickled veggies, sauces and stocks," Miner notes. "And we've added hot dinners for takeout — homey Italian-style meals."
At the shop, culinary director and butcher Ian Niedzwiedz, who has been with Il Porcellino for three years, is turning out a wider — and more creative — variety of charcuterie than ever before, so you can pick up head cheese, souse, pork roll, mortadella hot dogs and a housemade version of Spam in addition to the traditional Italian products that have been the main stars since the beginning.
The owner also points out that his deli appeared on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on April 3, right after the restaurant shutdown began and in the midst of stay-at-home regulations. "Being on the Food Network helps; that show airs every six to eight weeks, and we see a boost after every time," Miner adds. "And it's helped our online store, too."
Even bigger changes have come at Il Porcellino's main production facility in Basalt, which opened in 2018 to handle a growing list of wholesale accounts. Miner originally took over what had been Avalanche Cheese Co.'s salumi production room, and this past summer he was able to purchase the building and increase the production space from 1,000 to 3,500 square feet, with plans to expand into the rest of the 7,500-square-foot building soon. "We couldn't come close to meeting the demand for our product," he points out. "Being a property owner in Pitkin County was not what I ever envisioned."
Whole Foods Market has been one of Il Porcellino's biggest wholesale accounts since last spring, and business with the natural grocery chain keeps growing. Miner started out selling salumi in 35 grocery stores in Whole Foods' Rocky Mountain region, and now the plan is to go nationwide. You can even find two types of salami —peach whiskey and green chile tequila — exclusively at Whole Foods, or order pizza topped with one of four kinds of Il Porcellino products.
Other new or upcoming products include a line of Breckenridge Brewery beer brats, several whole-muscle cured meats (wagyu beef bresaola, duck prosciutto, Spanish lomo and coppa), and peachwood-smoked uncured bacon. In addition to Whole Foods, Il Porcellino has distribution in more than thirty states. "You can find our products in stores as far away as Alaska — it's pretty crazy!" Miner says.
There have been stumbling blocks throughout the pandemic, including wildly fluctuating meat prices, but Miner points out that his supply remained constant, adding that "prices skyrocketed for a couple of months, but we didn't let it affect our end price [to consumers]."
Another big change has been to Miner's schedule. After burning the candle at both ends for the first few years and driving to Basalt regularly when the production facility first launched, he's now enjoying more time with his family. "I don't work eighty hours a week anymore," he states, "so I feel blessed and lucky."