By: Polly Campbell
The traditional centerpiece of many a Christmas feast is a roast beef. And for a lot of people, it’s the one time of year they roast the best kinds of beef: a rib roast or a whole tenderloin. Those are special-occasion hunks of meat that can cost as much as a few days of groceries.
Luigi Berardo, the owner of Luigi’s Olde World Market in West Chester Township, knows how much anxiety is involved in buying an expensive piece of meat and committing it to the oven.
“It’s intimidating to cook that kind of roast,” he said. “People get really worried about ruining it.”
That’s why Luigi’s and other small butchers and meat markets with a staff behind the counter do brisk business this time of year.
“When you’re spending that kind of money, it’s nice to get some special attention with it, to get a recipe or some cooking instructions. Once you’ve cooked it, it’s too late,” Berardo said.
“I just spent 15 minutes with a customer, talking about how much tenderloin she needed, how she should cook it. Another lady who spent $120 on a roast asked me so many questions about how to cook it I almost did it for her. She didn’t mind spending the $120, she just didn’t want to ruin it.” (At Luigi’s, rib roast is $10.99 a pound, and you’ll need almost a pound per person; tenderloin is $11.99, and it may serve two people per pound.)
Last year, Berardo and his butcher, Monty Littleton, stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before Christmas Eve. They trimmed tenderloins. They cut rib roasts off the bone and tied them back on, so customers could roast them on the bone for flavor and then easily carve them. They made flank steak pinwheels, with festive green spinach, for the customers who wanted those for Christmas.
That was the first year the market was in business. This holiday season has been even busier, with orders up 40 percent over last year. The holiday hustle started with Thanksgiving, then got into full swing with deli platters for parties, vegetable trays, shrimp giardinara, pans of lasagna made at Berardo’s sister and brother-in-law’s restaurant, Germano’s in Montgomery, and plenty of orders for mushrooms stuffed with cream cheese, pancetta, chives and Parmesan.
“It’s my fiancee’s family recipe,” Berardo said. “I’ve just Italianized it.”
The big night will be Dec. 23, when again, they’ll trim tenderloins and fill orders for rib roasts.
Christmas counts for a lot in a small place like Luigi’s. After the frenzy of December, business slows down.
“In January, everyone’s on a diet, money’s tight. Then comes Lent,” Berardo said. “Christmas business has to cover those slow months.”
Since Berardo bought the former J&J Market and butcher shop a year and a half ago, painted the walls and installed new displays, the market’s been steadily gaining loyal customers.
“The big stores put the little guys out of business, but I think the trend’s reversing. People like to shop where they they’re on a first-name basis. That’s why we get so busy this time of year – I can personalize everything.”
Berardo has been in the food business for most of his working life. Before starting the store, he was a food broker, a business that shrank as grocery store chains got bigger and buying become more centralized.
He grew up surrounded by cooking in the small town of Duronia in Italy’s Molise region.
“We had a farm with a lot of land. We raised lambs and goats, we had chicken and rabbits. My mother baked bread and had a big garden.”
There’s a photo by the door of his late father braiding garlic.
“I know that was taken on a Sunday,” Berardo said. “He’s wearing his good shoes.”
He uses his father’s recipe for Italian sausage. It goes into his tomato-meat sauce, along with a pork chop. He bottles 18 quarts a week and puts it on the shelf next to his brother-in-law’s Germano’s brand.
He sells La Molisano pasta and other Italian dry goods, too.
“That pasta was made in a little store right across the street from my school when I was a kid. Now I’m selling it here in the U.S. The sauce with Colavita olive oil, I used to stop in with a five-gallon pail to pick it up for my mother.”