Meat lovers speak of Salumi in hushed, reverent tones as though they’re in church, or maybe just worried an eavesdropper will beat them to the Pioneer Square deli and get the last culatello.
And it’s been this way for 20 years now!
That kind of hype is beyond incredible in an industry that favors the hot new thing. Just this month Tan Vinh, of the Seattle Times, included Salumi’s porchetta sandwich (juicy, slow-roasted pork laced with fennel stuffed into a Macrina Giuseppe Roll) in his list of the four best sandwiches in Seattle. And this comes on top of just about every major food writer in the country having written in ecstatic tones about Salumi’s meats and sandwiches over the years.
Of Salumi, the late Anthony Bourdain said, “That is a holy place for me.” In 2005, Ruth Reichl, tasting Salumi’s mole salami, said, “(I taste) cinnamon, clove, a lot of clove. And that faint edge of chocolate. God, it’s so good. It’s such a surprise. It makes the pork seem so sweet. Oh, my god, it’s like he’s invented something new here.” She went on to suggest that Salumi’s mole salami would sweep the nation.
But salami is not an entirely easy thing to make. It takes a lot of skill, equipment and specialized curing rooms. Despite enlarging their production space, Salumi could never meet demand. This is why Gina and Brian Batali, who took over operations when Armandino, the founder and Gina’s father, retired, sold Salumi in October 2017 to Clara Veniard and Martinique Grigg.
Clara and Martinique were food lovers with Harvard MBAs and plenty of leadership experience looking to invest in a local business together. “Both Martinique and I were long-time lovers of Salumi,” Clara says. “We’d travel to visit relatives carrying sticks of Salumi’s meats.” Gina and Brian were at a point in their lives where they felt Salumi could take a step to the next level, and they weren’t at a stage in their lives where they wanted to do that. A mutual acquaintance bridged a connection, and after a few coffees at Grand Central, both parties felt they’d found the perfect fit.
Clara and Martinique donned hairnets and spent the first year apprenticing, listening and learning. “We wanted to learn from as many voices as we could what makes Salumi a really special place,” Clara says. “So many people came together to make Salumi what it is today, Armandino and Marilyn, Gina and Brian, the people that work there, and the customers. We worked in all parts of the organization, including arriving at five in the morning to make salami.”
In November of 2018, they made their first big change: moving the restaurant from its sliver of a space to the former location of Rain Shadow Meats at 404 Occidental Ave. “We hadn’t planned to move, but it was just perfect for us—only two blocks away from our old location—and as a former butcher shop, it had everything we needed. We reused everything that was already in place,” Clara says.
Spacious and filled with light, the new Salumi retains the filled-with-good-smells charm of the old space. Beloved features remain, like the private dining room and communal tables, but now there is more seating and a line that moves three times as fast.
Next up: a state-of-the-art production facility in South Seattle. Clara says, “Last December, we got to the point where we literally couldn’t fill most orders. I remember selling the last salami stick. It was a customer who came to the back door. We had one stick to offer them. My sisters and parents-in-law were shocked at Christmas that I didn’t bring them any salami.” Now Salumi will have the capacity to be able to meet customer’s needs. New flavors and new product lines are also in the works.
To find the best meats, Salumi is going straight to the farms. “We’re taking a hard look at the farms we source from, and how they treat their animals,” Clara says. “Everything will be all-natural.”
Through the changes, what makes Salumi Salumi are the same recipes and the same crew. “Culture is number one for us,” Clara says. “We have people who’ve been here since the very beginning. The first person who Armandino hired still works for us. It amazes me the level of care that I see from everybody on the team. They take great pride in what we’re doing here.” As Salumi grows, there will be more leadership roles and room for people to grow with the organization.
At Macrina, we’re thrilled to be a part of Salumi’s growth and are impressed at the seamless way Clara and Martinique have taken the best parts of a sacred Seattle treasure and made them even better. Ruth Reichl’s prediction that Salumi’s cured meats will sweep the nation just may come to pass.