"Am I going to be OK if I usually add a little olive oil to my burgers when I mix them up?" Jay Alman, of Highland Park, asks D.J. Smulick, the owner of D.J.'s Butcher Shop in Bloomfield.
It's just one of the questions that Alman, a first-time customer, has about the bacon-cheeseburgers he wants to make — and about the grind of shank and chuck meat that Smulick is offering.
"If I get two pounds [of meat for the burgers], how many slices of bacon am I going to need?"
"How big are you making the burgers?" Smulick asks.
"The size of the palm of my hand, easily," Alman says.
"Probably six pieces of bacon," Smulick says.
It's a scene that harkens back to a different time, before commercial grocery stores offered piles of hanger steaks and lamb shanks. Smulick, who is also the shop's sole employee, cuts his meats by hand with a handsaw. He grinds the meat on the spot, with whatever proportion of beef, lamb or chicken sounds best. Inventory changes daily, with shipments coming from slaughterhouses in Butler, Washington and Lancaster counties. There is no freezer in the shop.
In a way, says the 34-year-old Smulick, he's re-training people on how to buy meat.
"People are starting to catch on," he says. "They're buying in smaller quantities and coming in more often."
Smulick, who held his first job as a dishwasher when he was 14, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York before returning home to Pittsburgh. He opened his own business after his homemade sausage gained a following at farmers' markets.
Running a shop that counters the conveniences of mass production requires finesse, Smulick says. "You have to massage [the customers] a bit: 'Let me show you this, teach you how to do this.'"
And Alman, after getting answers to all his questions, says he is happy he walked in.
"We were going to go down to ShurSave down the street here," he says. "If I can get something better at a local place like this, I'll give them my money."