January 15, 2019 – Knowing where Zio Brand Meats is located is like being part of a secret society. Located at the back of a warehouse along Highway 68 in South Salinas, it has minimal signage and a bare-bones appearance.
But over the past year, locals have gradually been let in on the secret, through friends and family sharing the news that a new specialty butcher shop was in the neighborhood. And now owners Ellis and Lindsay Almond are getting ready to open up their business to what they hope will be an even wider circle of customers.
They’re holding a grand opening celebration, serving up sandwiches made from their handcrafted sausages, this Thursday from 11am-2pm. Zio Brand will continue having a monthly sausage barbecue every third Thursday of the month and is open Monday through Friday, 11:30am-5:30pm.
“It’s amazing how word of mouth has spread to bring people in,” says Lindsay, whose day job is teaching at Salinas High School. Not being very visible “doesn’t seem to deter people.”
And although the Almonds are becoming known for their handcrafted sausages, they also want to get the word out that every type of high-quality meat is also in their wheelhouse, whether it’s rib eye roasts, lamb chops, or packaging any type of wild game.
All of this has been a labor of love for the Salinas couple, who have devoted much of the past year to getting Zio Brand up and running. Ellis grew up making sausage in his hometown of Gonzales, and he’s been working to turn it into a full-time occupation.
Lindsay has also put her heart and soul into the shop, and is there helping out in the afternoons. With three children to raise, ages 8, 6 and 1, the Almonds have their hands full. But they say they couldn’t do it without a lot of family support.
Ellis learned his sausage skills from other members of his big Swiss Italian family, in particular his uncle, Lester Franscioni, who brought the recipe from Switzerland and made sausage for many decades for family and friends. The Swiss Italian word for uncle is Zio, and so Uncle Lester called itZio Brand.
But sausage was really more of a sideline for Ellis, a farmer, until he decided that it was time to kick it up a notch, and opened his butcher shop. He’s still farming on the side, in particular growing hops for brewing beer.
“Sausage making has really changed. It used to be that you used the scraps,” he says, which was a way to use up odds and ends—but this thrifty habit didn’t really create the tastiest sausage. “Now we use the top cuts, because you get out of it what you put into it. We need to keep the flavor profile consistent.”
The shop generally has five different types of sausage on hand. First and foremost is the original Swiss sausage, “If you go to a barbecue in the Salinas Valley, it’s a staple,” says Ellis. Lindsay notes that it’s their signature offering, a “well-liked, in-demand product.” Other flavors may vary, but some of the popular ones include a spicy Swiss, jalapeño cheddar, Italian, breakfast sausage and chicken sausage.
The Almonds note that all their sausages are made fresh, without preservatives or fillers, using only quality meats and spices. Ellis generally mixes pork shoulder and beef chuck for his links (he’s also planning to offer vegetarian and turkey sausage soon) and goes the extra step of hand tying them. He’ll also make custom sausages for customers, either from venison, boar or other wild meat that they bring in, or from whatever old family recipe they want to replicate.
Ellis says he’s been kept busy with specialty meats, custom-cutting steaks and aging them, for instance, or preparing quantity orders for caterers or for local companies hosting special events. Right now, the store is strictly retail but the Almonds hope in the future to be able to offer wholesale meats to grocery stores and restaurants.
The grand opening event this Thursday will be held rain or shine, and once again, it’s family that’s making it all possible. “Our dads are going to run the barbecue pit,” says Lindsay.
Zio Brand Meats & Sausages
92A Monterey-Salinas Highway, Salinas • www.ziobrand.com • (831) 206-1362 • email@example.com
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.