LONG BEACH — It all started on a windy afternoon during the Saturday Market at the Port of Ilwaco in May 2015 with five pounds of sausage and a $20 panini press. By September 2016, the end of their second season, Blue Collar Eats was serving more than 80 pounds of Portuguese-inspired sausage each Saturday.
In January, the business became the latest restaurant to open a retail location on the Peninsula as owners Anthony De Luz and Jennifer Jackson held a soft opening where more than 60 people showed during their first five hours in business.
“It was amazing,” De Luz said. “Sales-wise we did about five times what’s normally done here during this time of year.”
The opening the culmination of a two-year journey for De Luz and Jackson. A former, self-employed commercial general contractor for 27 years, De Luz’s first job in food service came in May 2015.
“I started out the first Saturday of May in 2015,” De Luz said. “I brought five pounds of sausages with me and a $20 Hamilton Beach Panini press.”
Fueled by Facebook
The popularity of “Blue Collar Eats” snowballed each Saturday thereafter. Daily postings on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the website have fanned the flames for fans.
“I have a huge social media presence — a huge ball of momentum,” De Luz said. “I spend an hour everyday with social media marketing.”
Their second season at the Saturday Market came easier as De Luz improved his cooking capacity and streamlined his serving approach with his fiancé and co-owner Jennifer Jackson, whom he met at the market earlier in the summer. At the end of the market season, the demand still continued, which led to De Luz to look for a commercial space to keep the momentum they had built going.
Anthony and Jennifer met at the market and soon discovered a common thread.
“I’m a blue-collar guy and she’s a blue-collar girl,” De Luz said. While De Luz worked in construction and carpentry his “whole life,” Jackson had roots in the farming and butchering industry. “The biggest influence for me was my dad,” Jackson said.
“I was the only fourth grader where I grew up that had a full-time job. I have the same work ethic and drive as (Anthony) does.” Together, their roots, common interests and work ethic combined to make the perfect team. Their approach is simple but effective: Anthony handles the cooking and prep work while Jennifer greets and serves customers. Occasionally, their gregarious nature allows some overlap.
“I only have one mistress — and that’s pork,” De Luz said, before bursting into laughter.
“He can have one and he chose pork,” Jackson added. Since first meeting at the market over the summer, the two have formed a close collaboration.
“From the 24th of July through today, we’ve not been separate from another,” De Luz said. “In six months we fell in love and now we’re opening a restaurant together.” In November they acquired the space at 107A SE 3rd Street in Long Beach, the former space of Kabob Cottage.
Gift from grandma
De Luz has been cooking for more than 40 years, a tradition that started while watching his grandma.
“My Portuguese heritage comes from Hawaii,” De Luz said. “My grandmother started teaching me how to cook when I was 10 years old.”
Growing up he would spend weekends in his grandma’s kitchen learning important lessons about cooking “with love” and cultivating a culinary passion.
“She didn’t do anything fancy, but the love that she put into her food… You would taste it,” De Luz said. Often De Luz would inquire about her secret that made food taste so good, to which she always responded, “It’s in the love, Anthony.” Today De Luz keeps a photo of grandparents above the range where he cooks, the only other necessity next to some wooden skewers, a bottle of oil and a stack of plates.
“She always believed in me and supported me,” De Luz said.
10 pounds at a time
Selecting the ideal cut of pork and keeping the batch small are essential steps in making proper sausage, according to De Luz.
“We hand-select every pork shoulder. We may go through eight to ten cases of pork shoulders — hundreds and hundreds of pounds to pick perfectly marbled pork shoulders for our customers’ sausages.” The key is finding a shoulder with a 25 to 30 percent fat ratio.
“If you don’t you’ll end up with a dry, cardboard-like sausage,” De Luz said. Next the sausage is cut into chunks and hand-ground into a coarse consistency before being mixed with his secret blend of spices and stuffed into a natural casing, the hardest part of the process.
“Most people today use a synthetic casing,” De Luz said. The natural casings, derived from intestines, can vary in size, which inhibits consistency in sausage size. Most sausage producers resort to a synthetic case which cuts costs and speeds production. The hand-mixing and sausage-stuffing method ensures a consistent texture, spice distribution and size.
De Luz and Jackson pride themselves on their unique menu, wholesome ingredients and hearty servings. “We’re not the run-of-the-mill restaurant,” De Luz said.
“We don’t do any fried foods, burgers, fries or pizza. We will have a rotating menu with market-fresh veggies and various Portuguese-influenced dishes. All our food is fresh with no preservatives or chemicals. Every recipe we cook fresh from scratch, everything is handmade.” There is no pretentiousness in their approach either, as the sausage is served on plastic plates with disposable utensils, all part of keeping the price down.
“A lot of income here (in Pacific County) is worker-scale,” De Luz said.
“We wanted to create a restaurant where two people can come in here with a $20 and have a nice, big meal.” There are about half a dozen of Portuguese sausage-inspired dishes offered daily, with an chicken option occasionally mixed in on the marker-board menu. A sausage-on-a-stick is $8; with a bed of rice, peppers and onions, it is $9. A rotating daily special is $10.
“All my food is created with passion,” De Luz said. “The main ingredient is love.”
For more information, visit www.bluecollareats.com