The government reps come to the Meatmen shop Mondays and Wednesdays. They can show up anytime between 6:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sometimes they swab Albert’s walls, check the temperature of his meat, review his safety procedures, or go through required paperwork.
“They’re just doing their job,” Albert says.
I am surprised to discover that the Meatmen Company is just this one man — Albert.
We pack up the van. Two oversized coolers are filled with sausages taken from a crowded freezer. Selections include: Bratwurst, Bratwurst with Cheddar, Sweet Italian, Sweet Italian with Provolone, and Spicy Kaiserkrainer. They’ll be sold in four-packs or used in the sandwiches he makes and sells at the market for $6 a pop.
Albert loads two wooden crates with wrapped salami. The walk-in fridge holds dozens more, hung on hooks near the ceiling. Albert’s salamis are cold-cured for two months, resulting in a stronger flavor.
When the van is ready to go, there’s barely room in the passenger seat.
Before hopping on the 805, Albert stops at Smart & Final and purchases a 12-pack of Sierra Nevada and two large blocks of butter. Both will be used to steam the sausages. He is against cooking with cheap beer.
We make another stop at Blue Ribbon Pizza in Encinitas, where Albert drops off a crate of sausages and salami that will be used as pizza toppings.
Most of Albert’s revenue comes from sales at farmers’ markets. Ideally, he would like 60 percent of his profit to be online orders, but he has yet to set up a website. He doesn’t have time. Albert works seven days a week on the markets, production, ordering, and bookkeeping. His wife sometimes complains about his long hours.
“When you own your own business, you don’t have much time for friends and family,” he acknowledges. “There are moments when it’s overwhelming. But then I get into my van, and I get excited to go to the market.”
Albert sells at six farmers’ markets. On Wednesday, he is in Ocean Beach. Thursday, he attends two different Oceanside markets. Friday — La Mesa. Saturday is Poway, and Sunday, Encinitas/Leucadia. He sells the most in Oceanside, the least in La Mesa.
“The La Mesa market only covers my dry-cleaning bill, but it’s revenue, and I can’t turn down revenue,” Albert admits.
When we arrive at Paul Ecke Central Elementary school, many of the other vendors have already set up their booths. Ron, the market manager, is standing on a narrow dirt path directing vans as they come in. He wears BluBlockers and a T-shirt tucked into pale denim shorts. He looks grumpy. Albert waves. Ron does not wave back.
It takes us about 15 minutes to set up the Meatmen booth. First the canopy, then the netting. We cover two tables with fabric. Albert lights a propane stove. He boils water for washing his hands and puts it in an oversized Thermos. He will scrub up every time he touches money. Albert asks me to be the cashier, hoping to avoid having to clean up so often. This is a really bad idea. I’m terrible at math. I’m convinced he will be losing money today.
Albert cuts a few salami slices as samples.
His neighbors to the right are Japanese sushi-makers. To his left, a Belgian man and his Italian wife; their specialties are fries and waffles. Across the dirt path, an Englishman has a coffee cart and bakery goods. Next to that is a gyros cart. Everybody is friendly with one another. They have inside jokes.
They laugh about a Super Bowl pool that Ron, the market manager, set up. The owner of the coffee cart won $500. Ron walks past, and one of the vendors yells out, “How’d you let a British guy beat you in a Super Bowl pool?” Ron chuckles. He turns to the owner of the coffee cart. “Are you giving everyone five bucks to rub that in?”
A boy, maybe 10 or 11, drops off a large paper bag from a neighboring vendor, Le Rendez-Vous. It is filled with baguettes that will be used for Albert’s sausage sandwiches.
A frizzy-haired blonde woman, dressed in yoga pants and a tie-dye shirt, stops by the Meatmen booth to ask Albert if he would like to swap food again.
“Sure. Guavas and blood oranges?”
She nods. A few minutes later, she appears with an overflowing bag.
She leans in and whispers, “We’re selling the farm and moving into a condo near the beach. It’ll be easier. I just can’t keep up anymore. I’m in my 50s.” She is excited, but Albert looks disappointed.
When she leaves, I ask how often he trades food with other sellers and am surprised to learn that this happens at almost every market. “There is certain camaraderie amongst food people,” he says. “But I don’t trade with everyone that asks. Some people are hired employees of the farms. It’s not their food.”
Albert’s first customer is a woman with cropped spiky hair. She has a three-year-old son. The woman and her boy show up every week for Meatmen sandwiches.
“I want a hot dog,” the boy announces.
Albert takes a baguette and scoops a hole in its center, using a metal tong. He serves the extra bread to customers, saying, “A little appetizer!”
Next, he stuffs in a sausage, some sauerkraut, and a squirt of whole-seed mustard.
Albert places the sandwich in the little boy’s hands, then gives him an affectionate wave. The boy’s mom thanks Albert for her “weekly fix.”
More people show up. Most buy sandwiches or the four-packs of sausages that go for $8. Throughout the day, Albert makes a few salami sales, though not nearly as many as the sausages.
Albert has given his salamis names like: the Naughty Constable, the Juicy Scandal, and the Tasty Treason. His sign reads: “$8 a chub.”
A couple giggles over the sign. “It’s phallic, huh,” Albert says.
A woman buys a Juicy Scandal and a Naughty Constable as Valentine’s Day gifts for her boyfriend. Albert goes along with the gag. “I’m going to put a big red heart sticker on these and write, ‘Enjoy.’” The woman chuckles. Albert laughs, too. “I’m here for all your Valentine’s needs.”
See list of farmers' markets in San Diego County