The Lady Butchers
Female Chefs Reign at Saucisson, Slavic Village Artisanal Butcher Shop
By Lexi Hotchkiss
Braised pork belly. Roasted garlic sausage. Duck breast pastrami. Oxtail. Ribeye.
If the mere mention of these meatful masterpieces conjures a serious rumbling of hunger pangs, it’s time to introduce you to Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend.
Known as the “Lady Butchers,” these two fiery business owners, classically trained chefs and BFFs are the head honchos at Saucisson, an artisanal butcher shop in Cleveland’s Slavic Village.
But don’t let the term “lady” get you all mixed up. These women—clad in bandanas, butcher aprons and self-confidence—aren’t afraid to use cleavers, meat saws and sausage grinders to intricately prepare everything from hand-cured meats to specially spiced sausages.
It's A Cleveland Thing
While the corner butcher shop has long since disappeared from many towns across America, Cleveland’s maintained quite a few of these vestiges within quaint neighborhoods and inside stands throughout the West Side Market. And, this city’s dedication to the craft isn’t lost on Melissa and Penny.
“A lot of the butcher shops in Cleveland are Eastern European—focusing mostly on hard, smoky meats—which are great. But we don’t carry any of that stuff,” Melissa says.
So, depending on when you visit, expect the case filled with tightly packed bundles of tasso ham, mortadella, cotto salami and morocco spiced pork. And, don’t be surprised by a good head cheese or two.
“We hang out in the Mediterranean flavor profiles. Things are Italian inspired, French inspired and sometimes German inspired,” adds Penny. “It’s where we both have family origin.”
Eat In or Take Out
For visitors, the shop is perfect for varying sizes of charcuterie to-go platters and individual portions of carefully prepared rillettes that pair deliciously with big, crusty loaves of bread (which can be devoured in the privacy of your hotel room).
Around noon on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the Slavic Village shop—a mix between an old-timey butcher shop and a contemporary lunch spot—becomes packed with nearby workers and neighbors enjoying an ever-evolving menu of soups and sammies.
For an even more immersive experience, Melissa and Penny teach sausage-making classes every month inside the neighborhood joint.
Only The Good Stuff
“Because of our background—just the way we grew up—we don’t waste anything. We bring in the whole animal. Then, we make soups and stocks. We render the lard. When we have an excess of lard, I take it home and make soap,” Melissa shares.
And, they don’t budge on their goal of providing the highest quality local products.
“We are sourcing strictly from small family local farms. On top of that, we do not use any nitrates or preservatives. We stand by that a thousand percent,” Melissa says. “If you start with good product, you don’t need to do much to it.”
It’s the neighborhood that surrounds Saucisson that makes it even more unique. Located inside a beautifully revived storefront along Fleet Avenue in Cleveland’s Slavic Village, the butcher shop boasts clean lines, off-beat decor, original tin-tile ceiling and tons of natural light.
The working-class neighborhood, which once was within walking distance to Cleveland’s steel mills, was where many Polish and Czech immigrant families called home during the 19th century.
Today, the traditions held by some of Slavic Village’s earliest residents are still maintained within its local businesses. For many, the area feels reminiscent of the neighborhoods our grandparents often wax poetic.
“We wanted to be part of something. We wanted to be a part of an actual neighborhood. We wanted to know people on a first-name basis,” Melissa says.
“I feel like the more and more you talk to people, you find that everyone is connected to this neighborhood in some way,” agrees Penny. “Everything is connected.”