Owners hope West Beth butcher shop becomes a cut above

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Piggy bank.

Jared White smiled sheepishly after letting that slide out, laughing at his joke. And why not ham it up. The line was hilarious and appropriate at the same time.

White and two friends purchased a building in West Bethlehem Township that had been a longtime bank. They are repurposing it into a butcher shop, and pork products (charcuterie) will be among their signature items.

The place, then, is a piggy bank of sorts – which the partners hope to transform into a cash cow.

Bob Von Scio, Wes Cannon and White have toiled for nine months, transforming the onetime financial institution into Heritage Craft Butchers, a market where they will cut, cure, prepare and sell meat selections. The building sits along Main Street, across from a series of coke ovens and down the road from Marianna.

The owners, who have done many of the renovations themselves, are nearing completion. And while they don’t have a definitive opening date, they are eager to launch within a few weeks.

“Trying to build a small-town butcher shop atmosphere is big,” Von Scio said.

Heritage Craft Butchers will not be a restaurant, but White and Von Scio said customers will have the opportunity to sample items. At first, they will serve cuts of pork, beef, lamb, goat and duck. The operators plan to add rabbit, bison, venison and other poultry.

“We’ll also have salamis, kielbasas, pates, quick turnaround things,” White added. Items are hanging there now, curing.

In many instances, these will not be standard deli selections. “We want our customers to be able to purchase things here that they cannot purchase anywhere else,” Von Scio said.

By taking this culinary step, the three entrepreneurs are satisfying their foodie desires. Von Scio, who built a house in Morris Township, Greene County, five years ago, “wanted to raise as much food as we could.” He started raising pigs, which helped to sustain his family, and became accomplished at charcuterie.

White and Cannon, both of Washington, share their partner’s passion for this. White has a couple of years of experience in butchery and charcuterie, with a specialty in wild edibles. Cannon has been a chef and cook in restaurants in New Orleans and Maryland.

He and Von Scio pledge to make this a local endeavor. (Cannon was out of the country when the other two were interviewed.)

“We’d like to have partnerships with local businesses,” Von Scio said. “We may have chicken, if it is processed locally.” By law, Heritage Craft Butchers can sell only in Pennsylvania.

Buying the building, he said, was affordable, but the renovation has not been. He said they purchased it from Betty Girdish, West Bethlehem’s tax collector, for $30,000.

“We’ve spent about $200,000 in renovations and equipment,” Von Scio added, rolling his eyes. They did save by purchasing some equipment from Lawrence Briggs, who had a custom butcher business.

The owners plan to offer subscription boxes and delivery, and to participate in farmers markets and festivals. Butchering will not be part of the equation at the piggy bank.

“Nothing walks in here,” Von Scio said. “Everything must be processed at a (U.S. Department of Agriculture) slaughterhouse and stamped.”

This renovation has been grueling at times, especially recently. But the effort has been worthwhile. The shop is bright and well-appointed. Showcases, large and small and empty thus far, tastefully adorn the facility. And, of course, there are the dangling delicacies.

The bank closed in October 2016, but some of its assets – physical in this instance – endure. Its large vault serves as a long-term curing chamber. A small room at the front is a short-term curing area, and a drive-through space is now a walk-in cooler. Cutting is done at a side of the building that is bulletproof.

“It’s been really cool to take something and turn it into something else, but retain the flavor of what it was,” Von Scio said.

White, Cannon and Von Scio had investigated other potential locations, and were enamored of downtown Washington, but concluded that renovating certain spaces there would not be feasible. Von Scio, however, said they would like to have a retail store in Washington.

The West Beth bank was a deal, and although Von Scio admitted the group had “apprehensions” about settling in a sparsely populated area, they believe their site is accessible enough to a high-volume highway, Interstate 79 – a 15-minute drive – to sustain their business.

It is an interesting, and unusual, business to be sure – and a contemporary one, according to Von Scio.

“For the past 10 to 15 years,” he said, “the food culture has changed enough to make this viable. People want to have a little adventure with their food.”

The venture has been an adventure for the owners, as well.